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4 juillet 2011 1 04 /07 /juillet /2011 23:28
« Steinbeck’s new book [The Grapes of Warth] was published in 1939, and it caused an uproar. Most Americans had grown used to the sight of hungry people lined up outside soup kitchens, and of men selling apples on street corners. Such scenes were common in the 1930s. The Grapes of Wrath brought a new and troubling depression image to the public’s attention: the homeless Oklahoma family wandering California’s highways.
Little had been reported about the poor conditions in which the uprooted farm families lived. Readers could hardly believe that the desperation Steinbeck described was real.
The Associated Farmers, determined to protect their image and their cheap labor source, launched a campaign to defame Steinbeck and discredit his work. The growers started a rumor that the migrants hated Steinbeck for portraying them in a negative way. The author was called a liar and a communist. Some hate groups, mimicking the tactics of Nazi Germany, denounced Steinbeck as a Jew.
Such appeals to people’s prejudice discouraged John Steinbeck. “I am sad for a time when one must know a man’s race before his work can be approved or disapproved,” he commented in a letter to one of his critics. “It happens that I am not Jewish and have no Jewish blood but it only happens that way. I find that I do not experience any pride that it is so.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, visited the migrant camps in California. Mrs. Rossevelt cared deeply about the welfare of people everywhere. Americans knew she would not hesitate to speak the truth. Mrs. Roosevelt confirmed that the scenes Steinbeck were accurate. “I have nerver believed that The Grapes of Wrath was exaggerated,” she told a reporter.
Steinbeck sent the First Lady a grateful letter. “I have been called a liar so constantly that sometimes I wonder whether I may not have dreamed the things I saw and heard in the period of my research,” he wrote.
The publicity prompted Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr., to investigate the use of violence against farm workers in California. La Follette and other senators heard testimony from laborers, growers, and police. They concluded that the workers’ civil rights “are repeatedly and flagrantly violated.” The Senate committee called for legislation to protect the migrant worker’s rights.
The Grapes of Wrath created a stir for another reason as well. Its ending – a young woman nursing a grown man at her breast – shocked many readers. They accused Steinbeck of using obscenity to sell books. Officials in Buffalo, New York; East St. Louis, Illinois; and Kern County, California, banned the novel.
There were several critics who complained that the ending was unsatisfying. Steinbeck failed to resolve Joad’s dilemma, they said. The novelist replied that those critics missed the point of this book. As he explained to Pascal Covici, he had tried “to rip a reader’s nerves to rags, I don’t want him satisfied.”
Like the strinking apple pickers of In Dubious Battle, the southwestern migrants were trapped in a situation for which no happy ending seemed in sight. Steinbeck had wanted to capture reality in his writing. “I tried to write this book the way lives are being lived not the way books are written,” he stated.
Many critics, however, praised The Grapes of Wrath. A writer for the North American Review, a literary journal, called the novel “momentous, monumental, and memorable.” Steinbeck had created “the highest art,” the critic wrote.
Others thought it was an important book, but not one of the best written in recent years. An article in The New Republic stated that “it doesn’t rank with the best of Hemingway or Dos Passos. But it belongs very high in the category of the great angry books like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ that have roused a people to fight against intolerable wrongs.”
Some reviewers griped about Steinbeck’s “sentimentalism,” his emphasis on emotion over reason. Critics would often complain about the strong emotional quality of Steinbeck’s work in the years ahead. They would claim that it weakened his books. Yet, curiously, the feeling he communicated helped to make Steinbeck a favorite of many readers.
Twentieth Century Fox, a motion picture company, soon began filming The Grapes of Wrath. At Steinbeck’s suggestion, the producers hired Tom Collins as a technical advisor. Collins made sure the film portrayed migrant life accurately. He arranged for some scenes to be filmed at Weedpatch.
The folk singer Woody Guthrie told the story of The Grapes of Wrath in a song titled “Tom Joad”. Guthrie wrote the song, he said, “because the people back in Oklahoma haven’t got two bucks to buy the book, or even thirty-five cents to see the movie, but the song will get back to them and tell them what Preacher Casy said.”
In 1940, Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Grapes of Wrath. Columbia University presents the Pulitzer Prizer every year for outstanding achievements in journalism and literature. Steinbeck gave the prize money – one thousand dollars – to an aspiring writer, Ritch Lovejoy, to further his career. The novel also earned Steinbeck an appointment to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an elite society of writers, artists, and composers. »
Catherine Reef, John Steinbeck
Chap. 7, p. 91-93.
Clarion Books, 2004.

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Published by Qadri Jean-Philippe - dans Steinbeck - La Justice (2011-2012)
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