The Grapes of Wrath



STEINBECK, John The Grapes of Wrath

Viking, 1939.

First edition. Original pictorial oatmeal hessian cloth in pictorial dustwrapper with wraparound design by Elmer Hader. Author's presentation copy, inscribed on the front end paper, "For Dook - always / John". A near fine copy in a near fine dustwrapper, bright and crisp with a tiny closed tear to the head of the spine.

A fine association copy, inscribed to one of Steinbeck's closest friends at Stanford. Carlton "Dook" Sheffield was an early and sound friend to Steinbeck, beginning in the classes they shared at Stanford University. Throughout their lives Sheffield would serve alternately as roommate, sounding board, marriage counselor, correspondent, friend, and even, at moments, conscience. As students, both had literary aspirations. Steinbeck, according to Dook, "seemed to have read everything, and he thought about what he read and came into the English Club bursting with ideas." He added that Steinbeck "could be shy in public, but when he got on to a subject that mattered to him, the shyness vanished" (quoted in Parini 33). During semesters off they corresponded, and they spent the summer of 1924 together as sugar factory workers at Manteca in the San Joaquin Valley near Modesto. "'That was the summer we sweat off every bit of adolescent fat that we'd ever managed to acquire,' Sheffield later said" (ibid. 40). After abandoning the sugar factory for the speakeasies of San Francisco, they settled at Sheffield's family home in Long Beach, and set to the task of writing pulp fiction to finance their grander schemes. The writing that autumn didn't pan out, and both eventually finished their degrees. Sheffield stayed on at Stanford until he had a Master's, with which to become gainfully employed. Steinbeck wrestled daily with his muse in the hope of achieving something more.
In January 14, 1930, after Steinbeck and his fiancée Carol had overstayed their welcome in the Sheffield home, Dook and his second wife Maryon "kidnapped" their guests to the Glendale, CA courthouse where they were compulsorily wed. The Sheffields then helped them out the door to a $15 a month "shack," which they helped refurbish: Dook and Steinbeck fixed pipes and replaced electrical work, while Maryon and Carol furnished and decorated. The neighborhood was magnetized for old friends, and with Dook's money Carol and Maryon started a doomed plastics business together with several hangers-on. When creative hurdles, financial strain, and personal indiscretions took their toll in the mid-thirties, the Steinbecks returned to the Sheffields for solace.
The success of Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men in the late 1930s injected tension into his relationship with Dook, who was unemployed and, it seemed, unemployable. Steinbeck, wanting to return countless favours, offended Dook by offering to pay for him to take a PhD. By the summer of 1938 they were back on speaking terms, but the fire that had animated their earlier friendship never fully returned. In January of 1940 Dook articulated his despair as only the most intimate friend could: "The old easy relation isn't there. I find that I'm afraid of you—or what you've become" (quoted Parini 237). Steinbeck replied just as honestly: "You say you are afraid of me. I'm afraid of myself. I mean the creature that has been built up."
The Grapes of Wrath is considered by many to be Steinbeck's greatest work, and the defining work in the new genre of "Dust Bowl fiction", which rather like the industrial novels of nineteenth century England, champions the proletariat but this time on the southern plains of America in the wake of the Great Depression. There is something of the Luddite uprising in the hatred expressed for the tractors that level the farm, but it is also a very modern tale which attacks the bankers who, in pursuit of ever greater wealth, evict the farmer from the land. All place the individual in the centre in a position of powerlessness in relation to the invisible forces operating upon him.
Steinbeck's view on the message he was trying to get across were quite plain, "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]."
The impact of the book was immediate and explosive. The anti capitalist views of the novel lead to adoration from the working man and vilification from bankers and land owners in equal measure. The book was banned in the schools and libraries of several states. However, its literary merit was never in doubt and it won the Pulitzer prize in 1940 and was cited as one of the main reasons for Steinbeck receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Stock ID: 37317


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