I have this vague sort of memory of reading Of Mice and Men in high school.
I didn’t like it, and I have never wanted to read another Steinbeck novel. But…my classic a month challenge is about challenging my reading, and it was the most appealing of the Pulizier Prize Winning books for my Pop Sugar Book Challenge. I’m about 75% through.
And I’m pissed.
Steinbeck said, “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]. I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”
Goodness. How true it is. My nerves are ripped to rags. My grandparents left Kansas and settled in Wyoming. How I wish I could talk to my Dad about them. Was it the Depression that made them move? Why Wyoming? Did they just not have enough to reach California? Did they know California was over-burdened? How did they survive? How did they make it? It’s so sad.
I can’t talk to my Dad about my grandparents. He’s not here anymore. Why didn’t I read this book a year ago? Why didn’t I think to ask him more questions? I remember him talking of his mother–of her feeding people who were hungry. Of her kindness and goodness. But I never asked why Wyoming.
When I see these pictures, I can’t help but wonder…was my Grandmother, whom I love, in a similar situation? Could that have been my Dad if he’d been born earlier? Maybe my Grandparents left Kansas for other reasons. Maybe the left after the Depression. They were very young during it, I believe. So, maybe the depression wasn’t what brought them across country. Maybe I’m taking this novel and its portrayal of these people too personally. After all, I can’t help but put the faces of those I love on the characters I’ve come to love.
Steinbeck is effing brilliant. He makes the world so vivid–so dusty and hard and hungry and real that the Joads are your people. They all are. Don’t you just love Ma Joad? Don’t you want to help her? To feed those babies in the Hooverville? They’re fictional babies.
But they’re based off of real children who suffered.
And now when I see this woman with babies curled into her side, it’s not her babies it’s seeing. It’s mine. Because I have babies, and I love them. And if I had to, I’d work for $0.20 an hour to feed them. So yeah, Steinbeck was sucessful in tearing my nerves to rags. This book has made it hard for me to be happy this week. It’s just so sad. So wrong. So real. And it happened.
So maybe it’s too late to be so angry about what happened.
But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s important that we remember the atrocities that have occurred among mankind, so we can be sure to never let it happen again.
So…there will be other Steinbeck novels this year. Perhaps 15 was too young for the realities that Steinbeck had to offer. Perhaps it was just that the dude with the mice creeped me out, but I think I’ll be reading all of Steinbeck shortly and looking at the world through his eyes–eyes that were colored by the suffering he saw, witnessed, cataloged for coming generations, and taught what should be–
What should be is kindness, generosity, and a willingness to look at another human face and see the suffering there with a desire to alleviate it.