Reading The Grapes of Wrath and finding eerie echoes in it, of the present cultural and political moment. Can’t tell if it’s comforting or horrifying or just sad, but certain passages create this sense in me that we have been through all of this before, and are going through it still, and will go through it forevermore. It’s all connected somehow: the dust bowl, the Great Depression, the housing crisis, the Great Recession, the current disenfranchisement and disaffection.
But rather than try to explain, I’ll just give you the passage. It’s from the end of chapter 14:
One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here “I lost my land” is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate – “We lost our land.” The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first “we” there grows a still more dangerous thing: “I have little food” plus “I have none.” If from this problem the sum is “We have a little food,” the thing is on its way, the movement has direction. Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours. The two men squatting in a ditch, the little fire, the side-meat stewing in a single pot, the silent, stone-eyed women; behind, the children listening with their souls to words their minds do not understand. The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket It’s wool. It was my mother’s blanket -take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning — from “I” to “we.”
If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you into “I,” and cuts you off forever from the “we.”
The Western States are nervous under the beginning change. Need is the stimulus to concept, concept to action. A half-million people moving over the country; a million more restive, ready to move; ten million more feeling the first nervousness.
And tractors turning the multiple furrows in the vacant land.