Steinbeck in Staunton

Have you ever noticed when you’re thinking about buying a certain model car, that’s all you see on the road?

There is a similar phenomenon going on now during this COVID-19 crisis. I often feel books I’ve read or movies I watch have some connection in theme to what we are going through as a society, given the current state of isolation and uncertainty.

We are fortunate in Staunton to have The American Shakespeare Center. #BlackfriarsPlayhouse is the world’s only recreation of William Shakespeare’s indoor theatre. Although the theater had gone dark, it found a creative way, like many other performance venues to lighten to well… gray.

For a nominal fee you can download a link to watch wonderful recorded plays in the comfort and safety of your own living room. My brother-in-law and I are both John Steinbeck fans, and so he suggested we watch one of the offered performances, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

It was a wonderful adaption and we enjoyed it very much. But of course, while watching the Joads’ struggle across the Dust Bowl’ed countryside toward a hoped-to-be Promised Land in California, I could not help but relate their cautious optimism to the present day. The novel chronicles the struggle of migrant farm workers who greatly outnumber the opportunities to find work. We now hear stories of farmers with so much surplus, they are dumping crops and milk into lagoons.

Definition of grapes of wrath

An unjust or oppressive situation, action, or policy that may inflame desire for vengeance an explosive condition. Will the grapes of wrath come to another harvest— Stuart Chase

But there are too many themes in “The Grapes of Wrath” which resonate to mention. Corporate Greed, Death and Suffering, The Power of Family – to name a few. We all remain hopeful that this pandemic will leave us in a better place, much like the fictionalized version of California the Joad family had hoped to find at the end of their journey. Like them, we have seen some ugly behavior from people who lack patience or simply do not understand how dire the situation could really become if we don’t pull together.

I think about the “Hoovervilles” of the 1930’s – shanty towns which sprung up out of The Great Depression. In Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it was easy for a few thugs to paint a broad brush of ugly across the lives of others trying to survive in these camps. Fast forward to today’s landscape: fights over cleaning supplies and the right not to wear face coverings, which has unmasked the darker side of humanity.

Although I remain optimistic, a failed national leadership leaves me hankering greatly for a Franklin D. Roosevelt to come along and pull us out of this quagmire. I’d even settle (gladly) for a Ma Joad.

“A man so hurt and so perplexed may turn in anger, even on people he loves.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

2 thoughts on “Steinbeck in Staunton

  1. Great reflections. As you may know, Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book. Such a great writer and such a fraught subject. Hard to believe that we still live in such times. Even without the virus, we live in a world where we turn on the weakest among us and put children in cages.
    Thanks for your writings. I always enjoy a few moments of your insights.


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