Month: May 2011

Rereading “The Grapes of Wrath”: Chapter 3

First, here’s the Clash singing “Bank Robber,” which I mentioned in my last post, so if you’re some high-schooler reading this blog for your book report or history paper on the depression, listen to this awesome rebellious punk rock song about committing crimes while you’re reading (in another window, sadly, because of draconian and very un-punk copyright laws.) Kids, your elders – my elders – used to rock out to stuff like this in the late ’70s because it was about committing crimes and not feeling bad about it, and because it didn’t sound like classic rock, which their elders had originally gotten into to annoy their elders. See, education can be fun!

Anyway, I wanted to give you that treat before I go any further, because this is the turtle chapter.

When I was an undergrad taking a creative writing class, I had a professor go off on the turtle chapter. He complained about how slow it was, and how laborious. He said he wanted to make sure none of his students wrote like that. From what I remember of the class, they all wrote worse, myself included.

And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging his high-domed shell over the grass. His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the…

It kind of goes on like that for a while. Let’s rejoin the narrative a page later.

… the neck crept out and the old humorous frowning eyes looked about and the legs and tail came out. The back legs went to work, straining like elephant legs, and the shell …

Okay, good enough. At one point, an ant crawls inside the turtle’s shell and the turtle flinches and crushes it. And then, after what is only a few paragraphs but feels like an eternity, a truck driver comes speeding along and tries to hit the turtle. He flips the turtle, who wriggles, rights himself and keeps going.

What does this mean? I don’t know. I’m not sure why it’s here. Maybe John Steinbeck had something in mind. Maybe the turtle was the spirit of the poor working class. No clue.

I have this book sitting in my bathroom (yes, Liz and I have a bookshelf in our bathroom, a pretty big one actually) that’s calling Working Days, and it’s the journal John Steinbeck kept while he was writing The Grapes of Wrath. I keep meaning to crack it open and find out what he was thinking when he wrote that chapter. It just seems so… Weird. Showy. Flawed. Maybe it is; just some massive gaping weak hole exposing his amateurity hanging out underneath all the genius around it. Maybe it’s the flaw in the ointment that illustrates that I’m wasting my time with a joke of a book, a great big bludgeoning piece of propaganda, when I could be reading something better.

I’ve never been good at orchestrating my reading with my life. I haven’t read much in the past few months, other than a few books by Japanese writers and lots of newspapers. I’m getting married in a few days, and I just decided to start Paradise Lost. Things keep getting thrown in my way. I pick up a new book, put it down in a couple days, and start something else. Maybe I’m like that turtle, getting spun over by passing trucks, wriggling, righting myself and keeping on going.

Or maybe I’m not and that’s stupid.