CC: DVD Talk
To what extent should a novelist be true to facts when writing about history? I think that a novelist should be true to the facts when writing about history, or make it clear that the story is a work of fiction and that historical facts have been exaggerated or altered. The ramifications of writing a story that is not factual and allowing people to believe it is can be damaging. The nature of people is that they will believe a story if it sounds like it fits. When people read and learn something new, they want to share. In the past decade, social media has provided the ability to spread news like wildfire. In a matter of minutes, a false story can be shared to several hundred people without anyone ever questioning whether it’s valid or not. This is such a huge problem that there was a website created so that more cautious people can check facts before spreading news. People believe what they read or hear, and then it becomes a part of their knowledge base. Take any story you hear about a politician right now–if you’re a Democrat, you’ll believe any negative you hear about a Republican candidate, and this goes the other way as well.
With this novel, though, I don’t believe there were lasting negative ramifications. According to Windschuttle, Californians did get very upset when the novel was published, and I can understand and agree with this response. Grapes of Wrath painted California as a place where the locals took advantage of the Okies, that Californians lied on their pamphlets about there being work and good wages. The truth is that during the Great Depression there was work and room for the Okies in California, only a very small number didn’t have homes, and all the Okies had work. In fact there still weren’t enough people to harvest the fields in California even with all the migrants. I don’t know if Steinbeck’s story kept people from migrating to California, but I can see why Californians would be upset being painted as villains. In reality, no real damage was done because people did migrate and were successful.
The truths I learned from Steinbeck’s stretching and breaking the truth had less to do with actual history and more to do with what people were capable of. Perseverance is a theme in the book and a quality that everyone who wants to achieve better conditions in life needs to possess. My understanding of California history wasn’t clouded by this story because I didn’t know a lot about it in the first place, and it hasn’t affected my experience in California. I guess I didn’t pay much attention to whether the facts were real or not. What I did pay attention to was how the characters’ stories developed and how they survived their challenges. My understanding of the human condition was definitely enlightened. Windschuttle comments, “Many of Steinbeck’s admires claim that he is an observer of the human condition rather than the proselytizer of a political position…” I agree with this statement. Rather than writing a history book full of facts, I think Steinbeck was trying to artistically express the human condition no matter what situation a person is in. There’s always a human need to better oneself or to try to make a situation better. People struggled during the Great Depression in ways that we will never understand. Steinbeck made me feel this struggle through the Oakies’ story. In Steinbeck’s time, religion played a huge role in everybody’s lives. The parallel that Windschuttle makes to the Biblical Exodus is understandable. I think Steinbeck told a story that any religious person, especially those who struggle, can relate to. It was a globally familiar theme at the time and easy to understand.
Windschuttle claims, “The Grapes of Wrath was always meant to be taken literally.” I disagree with this opinion. I think Steinbeck researched enough to know the facts, but I think he was inspired by his research enough to create a story that would help others sympathize with the plight of immigrants or anyone who struggled to survive during the Great Depression. Even though I felt that some of the story was a little exaggerated in places, I was still able to sympathize with the Joad’s experience.
Until next time,