The Grapes of Wrath


My current book on tape, The Worst Hard Time, is feeling pretty familiar these days. The book’s about the Dust Bowl, a largely man-made phenomenon whereby some 100 million acres of previously lush grassland were reduced to completely lifeless hardpan inside of one generation of intensive wheat farming.

The people most responsible for this calamity were, of course, the ignorant sodbusters and the predatory salesmen and government agents that promised them unending prosperity, if only they would grow more. It worked for a few years and then came drought, the stock market crash and utterly exhausted soil. Winds swept up the topsoil and blew it into choking dust storms, known as Black Rollers for the way they moved across the land, burying cars and what little crops remained overnight. Babies died of dust pneumonia, chickens and cows from dust-blocked insides. And there was almost nothing to eat.

Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” told the story of many high prairie homesteaders who picked up and left for California. And in a scene eerily reminiscent of today’s circular firing squad of irresponsibility regarding the lending crisis (is the lenders or the homeowners who bought too much house on shaky terms?), a man struggles to figure out exactly who is removing him from his land and why.

The movie, like pretty much everything Steinbeck did, is brilliant and utterly heartbreaking (James Dean will make you cry in “East of Eden,” if not for his largely improvised performance than for the promise of what could have been had he lived past the age of 24…the man made three movies.). It is utterly timeless. But the most amazing thing is how little of our accumulated knowledge lasts more than a generation or two.


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

3 thoughts

  1. Book on tape, eh? I could never do that, I always find that I stop paying attention or drift off in to thought.

    I might have to check out this book, it sounds pretty interesting, especially given the times. This seems to be a pretty common problem when things go wrong in a society – is it the masses of peoples faults or is it the systems and regulatory structures that should have either done their job regulating, or at least warned the public of the crisis? I think a lot of the problem – both systematically and individually is short-term thinking. Like with the dust bowl and economic crisis – it seemed like a good idea to grow more wheat, it seemed like a good idea to lend and lend – but eventually the consequences of the actions catch up.

    I personally think that it is the responsibility of the lenders to make sure they are lending to people who can pay back the money. If I can lose my house because I bit off more than I could chew (whether I understood it or not), then I think lenders should be allowed to go bankrupt for making bad decisions. I understand the logic that their going under would be bad for the economy, but what we are doing hasn’t done anything to solve the root of the problem, nor fix the economy (which I wonder if it is even “fixable”). We are lining the pockets of the people who got us into this mess (which could have been avoided had there been some spine to go along with regulations), while people are still being shucked from their homes. There is outrage from the public, but a lot of it impotent, we are mad, but we don’t do anything. And when we write letters to our representatives, we get the standard “thank you for your input” form letter back, while they proceed to do what they were planning on any way.

    Now this is what is interesting to me – that they can put our economy in crisis, but be handed money with no conditions. It just shows where our leaders priorities are and also the peoples willingness to take part in their own democracy.

    And you are so very right, we have a collected short memory. Things that happened only a generation ago seem unreal, not relevant, and more “quaint” than anything – never lessons that we should learn from. If we keep on this cycle, things will never change, because we will never learn.

    Sorry for the rant, great post!

  2. Nice rant, Jennifer. The book on tape is for the car. It’s a whopping 15 mins to work and this option’s more productive than sports talk radio.

    I still think irresponsible, average Americans deserve plenty of blame as well. But when everyone’s to blame is anyone?

  3. Ah, the car. I don’t have one of those, so I often forget that not all people cannot read on their way to work like I can on the bus.

    I agree with you completely and I failed to touch on that during my little rant. Personal responsibility is yet another big problem in this country. We want a lot for nothing and some of us are willing to leverage our (and our children’s future) for cheap gain now. I admit, many of these people should understand what they get themselves into – I mean, most of our prosperity for the last few decades has been done on credit, both on a personal and national level, and we HAD to know that would come back to bite us at some point. We, as a society, have gotten so used to instant gratification, if we don’t have the money, well, “charge it”, but at the same time, I also feel as if we are in some ways “programmed” to be that way. I always fear falling prey to the “fundamental attribution error” (as it is called in psychology) where we blame the individual, not the situation. So what I mean is that, yes, lenders are to blame, and yes, individuals are to blame, but this country, due to our economic system and materially plied population, allow ourselves to feel we are the “victims” in a situation created by our, and our governments, own doing. I guess the reason that I feel the lenders have more to be “called out for” is that THEY are SUPPOSED to be the “responsible” party when it comes to monetary practices, and due to thing like the repealing of Glass-Steagel (is that how you even spell it?), they have been legally allowed to run amok.

    You bring up a really good point though – something I would like to see change in this country – blame isn’t and shouldn’t be the point here. When something goes wrong, we, as a nation, spend a great deal of time finger pointing and playing the blame game, when really, we are ALL to blame. I know it causes a cognitive dissonance to learn that our way of life is financially (and environmentally) unsustainable, but there comes a point when we all have to grow up, “face the music” – both as individuals, and as a nation, and to actually create a feasible plan of action as to how we are going to put this country back on track.

    Again, I’m sorry for the long rant. These are things I think about quite often, but can never seem to make the time to rant on my own blog about it.

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