Inputs: the me and Ma Joad edition

January 18th, 2013

A sort-of weekly review of what’s been nourishing me lately.

Arkansas sunset through the porch screen.

“Why, Tom – us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people — we go on.”

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

After all this time in America, I am finally reading the great American novel, Grapes of Wrath. I’m glad I’ve waited this long to go down the road with the Joads. Most people I know who have read it did so in school. I hope they got something out of it, but I know my appreciation is richer than it could have been before I knew something about the weight of being responsible for a family, especially through uncertain times.

I suppose when I was young and single, I would have been caught up in the political theme, and seen Tom Joad as the hero of the  journey. As a mother–especially a mother of sons– I am most drawn to the character of Ma Joad. I haven’t done the research, but I’m guessing Steinbeck’s relationship with his own mother must have been a powerful one. It seems like all the quotes I highlight come from the matriarch, or are about her.

Like this:

“She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build laughter out of inadequate materials….She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall.”

And this one, from Tom Joad:

“Jesus Christ, one person with their mind made up can shove a lot of folks aroun’! “

Not that I would know anything about that. Ahem.

I’m approaching the final chapters with that poignant feeling that comes near the end of a great book, knowing I’ll miss my time with the Joads. I wonder if any language has a word to describe that particular emotion. If so, it’s proof of an advanced civilization.

If you’ve read the Grapes of Wrath, let me know when, and what you thought about it. Do you have any personal connection to the great dust bowl migration? I’d love to hear about it.

Hope your weekend brings you plenty of good things.


P.S. Thanks to everyone who has been adding my page to their Facebook interests. There have been some great threads over there this week, including one today on raising teenagers. It’s becoming more like the virtual front porch I hoped it would be. Come on by!



10 Responses to “Inputs: the me and Ma Joad edition”

  1. Betsy says:

    I read the Grapes of Wrath in high school, but am going to reread it since now I am responsible for a family and a business and property and people’s lives and how they make a living. I remember liking the book but can’t tell you much about it. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. marilee pittman says:

    you have made me want to reread it…

  3. Corrine says:

    I read it a few years ago at the urging of a very good friend. I don’t think I would have had the same appreciation for it if I had read it in high school. It is now one of my favorite books. It stirs up so many strong emotions which in my heart is what makes a great book GREAT.

  4. Martha says:

    Read it in HS for a pompous teacher that I couldn’t stand. I remember there were only a few of us who actually read it, but it did make a lasting impression. The Ken Burns doc on the Dust Bowl was haunting.

  5. Cheney says:

    I’ve read a lot of Steinbeck and Grapes of Wrath was my least favorite of his. I thought it was way too slow, sort of boring, and the end is horrific (IMO). East of Eden, though? One of my top five favorite books.

  6. Amy says:

    I read it two years ago at age 38, and all the exact same quotes leapt out at me. “…build laughter out of inadequate materials.” Oh, my God, that hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s the hardest part of the parenting job, I think, and I’m only now beginning to scratch the surface of it.

    Do you keep a commonplace book? It’s a book where you write down all the quotes that leap out at you. A few times a year I reread mine cover to cover and it’s as though the world’s best writers wrote a book specifically for me, about all the things I care about most in this world.

  7. Carol G. says:

    I read this book when I was in 4th year university and had classes only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.On Tuesdays and Thursdays I read voraciously. What stands out in my mind is the fact that I wept at the end of the book. I must read it again to see how I would react now. Love your writing, Kyran!

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