Finally – I’ve finished a book.
I’ve finally done ✅ it. I’ve finished one of the great classics that I have wanted to finish for so long now. 🎉🎉🎉
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John Steinbecks mammoth piece on the hardship of the Joad family during the 1930s recession years. It is absolutely amazing. It is long, and a bit hard to read, but it is absolutely amazing 😉.
Why has it been so important for me to read this particular book? Well there is actually a number of reasons. First, it has gotten a huge revival, particularly with economists, for delivering subtle but harsh societal critique, especially for the similarities between the post recession years of the 1930, and the post 2009 recession / refugee-migrant years.
Second, the fact that we follow a family’s uprooting, and migrant journey through the US of A in the 1930s is interesting. Being a family father, trying to provide societal upwards movement for myself and my children, this is interesting and fascinating. Also it helps that there are so many similarities between the events that happen to the Joad family and my own upbringing in the farming industry and grandparents that were small farmers themselves.
Third, the chapters Steinbeck has where he vividly describes the technological changes to society in the 1930s along with the stark contrasts he paints between technology, capitalism and liberalism driving society forward on one hand, and the descriptions of families, social thinking, socialism and unity on the other is just brilliant. It’s heavy reading, but it is brilliant.
It’s also the reason it took me 3 vacations to finish the book, because I cannot read more then 10 pages without my mind wandering off, philosophical about the things I have just read and trying to put it into a bigger picture.
Before I go on, you can follow this link to get your own penguin classic on amazon; The grapes of wrath for only 15 USD.
The Joad family story.
Obviously the main story carrying the book forward is the story of the Joad family. A small farming family in the mid-west of Oklahoma living on a day to day basis with very small means, they are finally driven off their property because of debt and poor harvests. Along with dozens, hundreds even thousands others they decide to pack up all their belongings, and set the course for the promised land in the west – California. Rumor has it that there is an abundance of work to be had in California, when in fact there is almost none, but an abundance of ill fated laborers help drive down the wage for all the big landlords, factory owners and other financial tycoons.
The family has to endure much hardships long the way, and even when they arrive in California. This off course on top of the social stigma of losing their farming property. Every day present new challenges to overcome in order to just survive the road, and provide food in the stomach for the family of 11. Work is found on a day to day basis and labour provided to who ever has a need for a daily laborer.
Off course, it turns out that California isn’t the land of milk and honey it was sold to the masses to be. Joad family find themselves in a state camp, which though has some convenient appliances they have never tried,- like running water and ceramic toilet.
Acts of kindness in 1930 lower class society.
One of the things Steinbeck describes really well, are the – sometimes odd and seemingly random – acts of kindness that happen. People on the road passing favors to families they have only met hours ago. People self sacrificing for others out of pure good and kindness.
Also, in almost stark contrast to today’s individualistic society, descriptions on how the family was seen as the natural unit which you could not break out of, and basically all resources was pooled within the family in order to provide for all. A family based social security net.
Especially the descriptions of the state camp where the Joad family lands in California is almost socialistic. It is such a relief for the Mother Joad to find a little helping hand in life, and recognizing that the social help present there helps to lift all boats. Especially the ones at the button of society.
Roaring capitalism and technological change.
At the complete opposite end of the specter, Steinbeck has devoted almost every third chapter to neutral, observing descriptions of how technology, capitalism and liberalism ruthlessly pushes society forward. He tries to do it in a impersonal 3rd person view. Not to be judge mental, but just descriptive and observing.
These were the hardest chapters to read, with such long painting sentences of how people, families, lives and destinies were being upended through technological progress and ruthless capitalism
These chapters were the ones where I automatically stopped reading, and let my mind wander. To my grand fathers and their small homesteads. To my father and the booms and busts he/we experienced when I was a child. And to my own present struggles of trying to keep my labour marketable enough to actually achieve some sort of financial independence, before it is being overtaken by machine learning and AI.
And an even grander question of – what if I reach that FIRE state? Then what? And what will I actually use that for.
So far I am not really sure, but I have concluded one thing – just do good!
Please check out these excellent ressources for adopting a financially independent & minimalistic lifestyle;