I'm hard pressed to know what to say about this book. It's very well written and the subject matter is strangely compelling. But, it's also rather depressing. It's like reading about society's shooting itself in the foot over and over again.
This is a tale of the dust-bowl days of the 1930s. Small farmers in the mid west have some bad years—due to weather, not to their lack of industry—and are pushed off their land by the bankers, who like to suck up money, but never take any responsibility for the evils they inflict when things go bad, e.g. the original cause of most major economic disasters of the past century or so is flagrantly bad banking practices. But, then the little guys get caught in events as a sort of "collateral damage".
Whatever, the small farmers are evicted and head to California where they have heard things will be better for them. If you know the old Woodie Guthry song, Do Re Mi
, then you know that things weren't all that better. So, in a way, reading this book is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. But reading this book is also a way to understand the past and, perhaps, gain some understanding of and sympathy for people whose lots aren't so great through no particular faults of their own. The Joads are good people who just happen to have been born poor and without much opportunity for education or training.
When you read this book, you'll come to see that we're still doing this kind of stuff to our less well off neighbors. The anthropogenic climate change we are inflicting on the world is going to cause future droughts which will cause future disruptions to people's lives, again through no fault of their own. By reading books like this, one hopes people can gain some compassion and work to reverse injustice rather than continue perpetrating it.
One thing that interested me about this book is that I have oodles of relatives who were farmers in Kansas during that period of time (my mother's uncles), yet they seem to have weathered this period more-or-less intact. Perhaps Uncle Frank (he became wealthy—a lawyer perhaps?—and served in the state legislature back in the days when people went into government to make society better for all) helped out his farmer brothers from time to time (I do know he helped out his widowed sister, my grandmother. She paid him back). Perhaps they had larger spreads and used more modern methods. The Joads were farming 40 acres with mule teams. I dunno. Why do some people thrive and others not? We like to lie to ourselves that it's a moral issue, so that we can pretend the unfortunate deserve their misfortune. But generally that is often not the case. The Joads didn't deserve to be stuck on a 40 acre plot with mules when a massive, multi-year drought occurred. As another old song goes, they were the "victims of life's circumstances".