Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Grapes of Wrath

Usually when it comes to books being made into films, the books are markedly superior. However, the 1940's film adaptation of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" proves to be an exception to this trend. It stands alone as an excellent film that is true to the spirit and overall message of the original work. The ending of the book and the film contrast sharply. The book finishes rather bleakly while the ending in the film, while far from saccharine, offers a ray of hope for the Joad family as they persevere through the worst of the great depression. While normally I object to modifying an original work, especially one considered to be one of the defining pieces of literature of the 20th century, the ending created for the film version is more appropriate to its purpose. The book when it was first published served as an outraged voice bringing attention to the inhumanity and desolate state many poverty stricken families faced during the great depression. It described the situations faced by ruined farmers and migrant workers accurately at at time when those not in such a situation might be oblivious to it. This was before the information age. Although the entire country and western world was affected by the great depression, many were ignorant of what the worst off faced: corruption, starvation and exploitation. This book caused a huge uproar in the United States. It became a bit of a polarized issue. The "red menace" of communism was well rooted at the time "The Grapes of Wrath" was published meaning that all anti-capitalist writings were heavily scrutinized and highly suspect. Some even accused Steinbeck of inflating the degree of destitution experienced by those most affected by the great depression. Others praised the work as a long coming accurate portrayal of those who had truly lost everything.

The movie however by design did not serve to inflame viewers. It was designed as entertainment with the essence of the struggle portrayed by Steinbeck. While incorporating and presenting the situation outlined in the book, the ending offers some hope to the viewer without detracting from the strength of the message. Really, who wants to see a film with a bleak, hopeless ending? Viewers are informed of the terrible situation but do not leave the film feeling hopeless. Instead, I think one might feel enlightened, seeing a point of view and situation present but unseen. Also, by the time the film was published, the worst of the depression had past - no "exposé" was required. The endings to each form of the story suit their purpose and their timeframe. The book's inflammatory message would definitely would be weakened if it ended as the movie did.

The Grapes of Wrath's message extends much farther than just the great depression itself. It emphasizes the value of humanity and how humanity can be unjustly lost amid the figures of a ledger. It is of course also relevant in the economic uncertainty present in the world today. While we narrowly avoided a true depression in the economic recession of 2007, it certainly brings to thought what has been and what might have been.

1 comment:

Johanne From Times Past said...

Good dissection of both the movie and the book Alec. Bought any great antiques lately? How are the renos going?