The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at the same time if you wish, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.
Spoiler warning obviously
I was warned that this book was heart-wrenching, but clearly I was not prepared. The desperation that people are facing is so strong I can practically smell it. The way the migrants are treated fills me with such rage at the unjust ways of the world. I’d better get on to my comments before I get too worked up.
The most visible theme this week was migration, and it wasn’t even close. It was hard to go five pages without some native Californian looking down upon the people who had been driven off their own land and were fleeing west to find work. The way these people are treated is absolutely disgusting, being dehumanized and thought of as lesser – something that minorities have had to face since time immemorial. They are even derogatorily labelled ‘Okies’. I guess that was what surprised me so much initially: that these migrants came from the same country, and looked the same as the Californians, yet were discriminated against regardless. Although, know that I give it more thought, it makes sense. Even today, people in different geographical regions in the same country are looked down upon, and seen as less intelligent.
The whole situation mirrors are own today. In the book, the average California resents the migrants for coming and taking their jobs and lowering wages. However, they miss the big picture, in which the rich get richer through unfair means, and everyone else suffers. The migrants and natives should be a united front against exploitation, but instead a wedge has been driven between them. Similarly, today inequality is growing, not because migrants are coming and stealing jobs, but because the richest in society don’t do enough to help the average citizen. Yet the migrants have taken the blame again. Honestly, I cannot believe just how relevant this book is today, given it was written 1938.
The final piece of this puzzle is that, according to the book, if you keep citizens hungry and oppressed, they will rise up against you. This seems to be where the novel is trending, and, once again, it mirrors current society. In the past year, we’ve seen mass BLM protests, due to the mistreatment of an oppressed group, as well as the capitol insurrection riots, partly because another section of the population is poorly paid and feel mistreated. While these actions were taken by vastly different groups, with vastly different beliefs, it does feel like we are heading to some kind of revolution in the US.
There is also a link between greed and not properly living life. The richest people have a million acres, yet they drive around in bulletproof cars, scared of dying. I think this is true to some extent today, but it manifests itself in materialism. Those who have little find happiness in the little things, while the richest try to fill the hole in their souls with expensive stuff. Nevertheless, I don’t think this link is anywhere near as strong now as it is in the book. While I’m not convinced that rich people who can solve any problem by throwing money at it are likely to be truly, deeply happy, I don’t think they’ll be scared to live either.
There is a return to ignorance is bliss theme from last week. Here, people wonder in several places if they should withhold important information form others, simply because it is upsetting. Once again, my instinct is that this obscuring of information is what got them here in the first place. It seems like the compulsive need to shield themselves and everyone around them from the harsh reality of the world puts them at a disadvantage when dealing with the unscrupulous businessmen. The same is still true today. Potentially the reason we get so many unfit people in government.
With this next point, I have no idea what to make of it. One of the characters, Noah, upon arriving in the desert in California, left the family to live in the wilderness. The best I can make of it is that he couldn’t handle all the change, so he returned to his roots. Let me know if you have any suggestions as to why someone would abandon their family, likely forever, to make a life scavenging in a foreign land.
Next, we come to Uncle John – the man who can’t forgive himself. His entire life is dedicated to trying to make up for a mistake he made which led to his wife’s death. He carries the burden around with him, and it has meant he no longer really lives. He should definitely feel guilty, but when that guilt has completely and utterly destroyed his life, I think he has gone too far. This is a stark contrast to Tom, who killed a man, admittedly in self-defense, and feels not an iota of remorse about it. I guess this places John firmly in the past, while Tom is squarely in the present (and is likely better off for it). I hope John finds it in himself to forgive, but I don’t think it’s likely. I think he’ll end up another causality of the march of progress, just as Granpa was.
Speaking of which, Granma was also a causality of the journey. She lasted a lot longer than Granpa, but in the end, she too wasn’t well enough to make such an arduous trek. Once again, this signals a culling of those stuck in the past, and those unable to adapt to a new way of life. However, I’m not sure this theme holds true anymore nowadays. Technology has rapidly evolved in the past decades, and while it probably hasn’t been easy for the older generations, they have adapted and haven’t died.
Next week will be chapter 20. As always, I’m curious to hear what you think about these point, both in relation to the book, but also how they relate to our world now. Specifically, do you think that the older generations have adapted well to the changing technological landscape over the years?