Shortly after The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, Joseph Warren Beach* penned a legthy analysis and review of that wildly popular book entitled, “John Steinbeck: Art and Propaganda.” Near the end, Beach wondered aloud whether Steinbeck’s characters would have staying power.
Pa was the representative of practical prudence; Ma the voice of right feeling and generous impulse and the traditional code of decent conduct. It was she who decided that they would take Casy with them although they were already overcrowded. And she delivered the decision of the court in language pithy and judicial. Pa wanted to know, “Kin we,Ma?”
Ma cleared her throat. “It ain’t kin we? It’s will we?” she said firmly. “As far as ‘kin’, we can’t do nothin’, not go to California or nothin’; but as far as ‘will’, why , we’ll do what we will. An’ as far as ‘will’ – it’s a long time our folks been here ann east before, an’ I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody who asked. They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean.”
And so the Joads and the Okies take their place with Don Quixote, with Dr. Faustus, with Galsworthy’s Forsytes and Lewis’ Babbitt, in the world’s gallery of symbolic characters, the representative tapestry of the creative imagination. Will the colors hold? That is a large question, which only time can answer. It depends on whether the dyes are synthetic aniline or the true vegetable product. And who at the present moment can make sure of that?
* Joseph Warren Beach (January 14, 1880 – August 13, 1957) was an American poet, novelist, critic, educator and literary scholar.
Flash forward 73 years…
Dear Mr. Beach,
Although you have been dead for more than half a century, I feel compelled to answer your question; Yes. The dyes were the true vegetable product.
It is interesting that you mentioned Don Quixote in your review because 40 years later (1960,) John and his dog Charley traveled throughout the United States in a pickup he called Rocinante, the horse of Don Quixote.
My boss purchased the unfinished manuscript of a novel titled Don Keehan, Marshal of Manchon, which Steinbeck abandoned after writing 134 pages in 1957. Wizzo (my boss,) says he’s going to finish the story even though it’s unlikely he’ll ever get permission to publish it.
Quixote showed up often in the life of Steinbeck, as did King Arthur and the knights of the round table. My boss says we are what we admire. Maybe he’s right, I don’t know.
Five years after you died, Mr. Beach, John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
True vegetable product, indeed.
Rest in peace.