The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is considered a classic novel by many in the literary field. The trials and tribulations of the Joad family and other migrants is told throughout this novel. In order to gain a perspective into the lives of “Oakies”, Steinbeck uses themes and language of the troubling times of the Great Depression. Some of these aspects are critiqued because of their vulgarity and adult nature. In some places, The Grapes of Wrath has been edited or banned. These challenges undermine Steinbeck’s attempts to add reality to the novel and are unjustified.
In 1939, The Grapes of Wrath was published and came under fire for its content. Vulgarity and the misrepresentation of a preacher were the main complaints that led to the ban and burning of the novel from St. Louis, Missouri libraries in September 1939. Vulgarity may be prevalent in the book, but it has its purpose. Steinbeck used some vulgar terms to accurately represent the lingo and slang that was used by the people of the 1930’s. Most of the terms that were considered vulgar may be a bit distasteful, but is nothing that is not heard on the streets today. Extreme profanity is not extraneous in the novel, in fact, it is tame compared to slang terms used today. Casy, the former preacher that was traveling with the Joads, is not be given the connotation as the most holy man. Casy did not consider himself a minister at the time The Grapes of Wrath takes place. “But I ain’t a preacher no more” is spoken many times by Casy in denial that he is a man of the cloth. Indeed, Casy is brutally killed in the novel, but it does not go into graphic, violent detail. Once again, Casy’s feelings against the employers and government were common to the time and were used to state that idea.
Another point of controversy lies on The Grapes of Wrath’s closing sequence. In this finale, an old man nurses from Rose of Sharon, a young women whose baby was delivered stillborn. Some believe this is pornographic, sexually oriented, and improper, especially for young children. In fact in some states, the sequence is taken out. This sequence may be a vulgar, but it is an essential element to the novel and is in no way pornographic. It shows the desperation of the migrants to do anything to survive, no matter what the implications may entail. Those who are missing this ending, such as those who read editions in Texas, are missing this important element of The Grapes of Wrath. These readers may never fully understand the lives of migrants in the 1930’s . The novel may have some adult content, but it was never meant to be read by young children. The target audience, ages over 14, can look beyond the visual picture and fully ascertain the section’s deeper meaning.
Others may critique Steinbeck’s use of socialistic and anti-government messages. During the 1930’s, these ideas were very common. In fact, Upton Sinclair, a socialist writer, was nearly elected governor of California. Living conditions, the opposition between the Californians and the “Oakies”, and the inability to break out of the depression all added to beliefs of the times. Steinbeck was not advocating socialism, he was just reflecting the times. Without these individual beliefs of the “reds” and other people that showed either socialistic or anti-establishment messages, the reader would get a dry, unfulfilled perspective of the lives of people during the Great Depression.
Censorship does have its place in society. There are many things that are too risqu, degrading, and should not be shown. Pornography, extreme sexual content, and extreme gratuitous violence does not have its place in literature or in society. The Grapes of Wrath does not have any of these above aspects. Of those who choose to ban this book and other works of literature with questionable themes, many of them are wrapped up in political correctness. In literature, life should be shown like they it is, not as someone would like it to be. As much as political correctness advocates would like to change things for the better, they cannot change the past no matter how hard they try.