The Grapes of Wrath Is Mostly Farming Gripes–Hardly Any Grapes

The Grapes of Wrath is not the viticulture guide you’d expect. It certainly has nothing to do with grape culture in Cape Wrath, Scotland. Furthermore, the few mentions of grapes leave the reader wondering whether Mr. Steinbeck means bunch grapes, wine grapes, muscadines, scuppernongs, or some other minor Vitis species. This is a somewhat baffling oversight considering that, in all other respects, the author describes scenes and dialog in marvelous detail, producing a tome of over 550 pages. 

Though the title is a misnomer, the book itself isn’t without agricultural merit and  provides a practical method to make farmland profitable. The steps are as follow: 1) work as a higher-up in a big bank 2) provide loans to farmers for basic farming supplies and equipment, with farms put up as collateral 3) wait for a farm crisis, like the Dust Bowl, to cause farmers to default on loans 4) foreclose on farms, forcing small farmers off the land 5) sell bank-owned farmland to bigger farmers 6) reap the profit and wait for the next farm crisis to repeat. 

Succeed at separating enough families from the land, and you can cause a mass migration of desperate, displaced people who can be further exploited for cheap labor in other locales (at least if they don’t starve to death first). Though this book was first published in 1939, the scheme is pretty much still doable, hence the large population of migrant workers used to harvest fruit crops today, most of whom are exempt from minimum wage laws because they’re paid piecewise for the backbreaking opportunity to pick America’s fruit.

Admittedly, to get to the juicy parts about farming philosophy, you’ll have to wade through a lot of fluff about the Joad family, many of whom–spoiler alert!– die pitiful deaths. In fact, the book paints a pretty dismal picture for your average displaced farm laborer and small family farmer. Thus, for a more upbeat and optimistic farming read, I suggest Snail Farming for Profit by Anton Smithers. 

15 thoughts on “The Grapes of Wrath Is Mostly Farming Gripes–Hardly Any Grapes

  1. Thanks for the heads up. I had assumed it was a Veggie Tales style story, about how some angry grapes learned from their upbeat fruit buddies how to be content and happy regardless of the circumstances, lest they get wrinkles across their faces and turn into gross raisins that nobody likes. If that Steinbeck guy ever wants to get famous, he needs to come up with something better than this.

  2. Veggie Tales. That’s a good parody idea. I had forgotten about Veggie Tales. We used to watch them in church on on a box TV and VCR on one of those rolling cart things. They were surprisingly entertaining.

    1. Ah yes, those clunky rolling cart things which were a staple of every church and elementary school. I don’t remember watching Veggie Tales at church, but we did watch something called McGee & Me, and also some animated renditions of Adventures in Odyssey.

  3. While still rolling about in laughter (as a Scot) at the thought of viticulture at Cape Wrath (but believe me, it’s not impossible in other parts of Scotland), your review actually made me want to have another shot at the book – I never really got it when I was younger and struggled with translation. Somehow it sounds rather pertinent today…..

    1. From what I read on wikipedia, Cape Wrath seems pretty desolate. It was the only place I could find that had Wrath in the name. Have you ever been there?

      The book is still very pertinent today. It’s just that instead of using Okies for labor now, we use hispanic migrant workers.

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