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The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

Dit hartverscheurende verhaal van de familie Joad op de vlucht van Oklahoma naar Californië tijdens de Amerikaanse Great Depression is een meesterlijke, universele, diepmenselijke vertelling waarin Steinbeck met weergaloze empathie het lot van de vertrapte armen schetst.


Zoals in alle wereldliteratuur overstijgt de inhoud tijd en ruimte en resoneren zijn inzichten tot vandaag door. Hoe hij de miserie, armoede, ontbering, uitpersing, slachtofferschap van blind kapitalisme, wij-zij-problematiek tegenover vluchtelingen, maar ook telkens opnieuw de hoop en kracht van de menselijke geest beschrijft zou zo uit de bevlogen pamfletten van een progressieve partij kunnen komen.


Steinbeck lardeert het redelijk eenvoudige verhaal dan ook letterlijk met korte, soms politiek-filosofische hoofdstukken, waarin hij de situatie van de familie Joad en wat ze meemaken via een aantal andere gezichtspunten extra belicht.


Voor een boek uit 1939 is de stijl opvallend fris en helder, en de kracht en het leven van het verhaal komt vooral door de typisch fonetische spelling van zijn dialogen, die je als lezer volledig in elke scène zuigen. Een lukraak voorbeeld uit het midden van het boek:


Pa asked politely. "Goin' west?" "Nope. We come from there. Goin' back home. We can't make no livin' out there." "Where's home?" Tom asked."Panhandle, come from near Pampa." Pa asked, "Can you make a livin' there?" "Nope. But at leas' we can starve to death with folks we know. Won't have a bunch a fellas that hates us to starve with." Pa said, "Ya know, you're the second fella talked like that. What makes 'em hate you?" "Dunno," said the man. He cupped his hands full of water and rubbed his face, snorting and bubbling. Dusty water ran out of his hair and streaked his neck. "I like to hear some more 'bout this," said Pa.

Maar ook zijn beschrijvingen zijn subliem in de manier waarop ze nuance brengen en blijvende hoop op het soort samenleving waar John Rawls het over had in zijn theorie van rechtvaardigheid:


In the open doors the women stood looking out, and behind them the children-corn-headed children, with wide eyes, one bare foot on top of the other bare foot, and the toes working. The women and the children watched their men talking to the owner men. They were silent. Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves. Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshiped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling.

En dan schud hij ook nog dit soort prachtige dingen uit zijn mouw:

The film of evening light made the red earth lucent, so that its dimensions were deepened, so that a stone, a post, a building had greater depth and more solidity than in the daytime light; and these objects were curiously more individual- a post was more essentially a post, set off from the earth it stood in and the field of corn it stood out against. And plants were individuals, not the mass of crop; and the ragged willow tree was itself, standing free of all other willow trees. The earth contributed a light to the evening. The front of the gray, paintless house, facing the west, was luminous as the moon is. The gray dusty truck, in the yard before the door, stood out magically in this light, in the overdrawn perspective of a stereopticon. The people too were changed in the evening, quieted. They seemed to be a part of an organization of the unconscious. They obeyed impulses which registered only faintly in their thinking minds. Their eyes were inward and quiet, and their eyes, too, were lucent in the evening, lucent in dusty faces.

Om de volledige diepgang van de titel van het boek in relatie tot het verhaal te vatten ben ik te dom en heb ik te weinig Germaanse filologie gestudeerd, namelijk nul jaren, maar hoe hij hier beschrijft hoe oogsten vernietigd worden terwijl de hongerige menigte machteloos moet toekijken, daarvan zou je toch zelf ook wat gramschap en toorn ontwikkelen:


The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit-and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains. And the smell of rot fills the country. Burn coffee for fuel in the ships. Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire. Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out. Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth. There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certifi- cates-died of malnutrition-because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Vijfhonderd pagina's lang neemt Steinbeck je mee op sleeptouw, en je wil dat ze het halen, dat er een einde komt aan de miserie, maar dit is geen Hollywood-verhaaltje waarin alles goed komt.


Integendeel: tijdens de laatste tientallen pagina's begint het te regenen en krijgt het verhaal een bijbelse, bijna apocalyptische wending, die eindigt in een zeer vreemde, symbolische scène van Caritas Romana.


Wat drink je daarbij?

Uit solidariteit: water uit een beek, voze koffie vol drab, goedkope whisky en melk uit blik.


Wat beluister je daarbij?

Dit soort dingen:





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