Welcome to another Friday with Between the Lines Book Club! We’re discussing The Grapes of Wrath this month. Please join us in person at Arden Dimick Library, at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA, 95864, at 2PM on September 28, 2014 for our in-person book club meeting, and leave comments here so we can have on-line discussion as well!
The Grapes of Wrath was the number one seller in the year it was published, selling 430,000 copies by the winter of 1940. It received immediate and future critical acclaim. but not everyone likes it – it was banned and burned in the year it was released and it continues to be banned or opposed in school and libraries as recently as 1993.
The Grapes of Wrath ends in Kern County, California. Residents of Kern County were outraged that their county was portrayed in a negative light. The county board of supervisors voted 4-1 to ban the book from libraries and schools. The board was lobbied intensively by the Associated Farmers, a group of large-scale landowning farmers. Bill Camp, head of the Associated Farmers, made one of his workers, Cluell Pruitt, to burn the book, as depicted in the photo below.
As stated in an NPR article about the burning of the book in Kern County:
Meanwhile, local librarian Gretchen Knief was working quietly to get the ban overturned. At the risk of losing her job, she stood up to the county supervisors and wrote a letter asking them to reverse their decision.
“It’s such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin,” she wrote. “Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading.”
Kern County was not the only place that banned or attempted to ban The Grapes of Wrath.
You can find a more complete list of all the time The Grapes of Wrath was banned or challenged at The American Library Association page “Frequently Challenged Books”. It’s been challenged for its political and social views, its language, sexual content, and use of profanity. It’s been banned in Ireland (in 1953) and Turkey (1973). It was burned by the East St. Louis Illinois Public Library in 1939 and challenged as required reading in Tennessee in 1993.
Partly because of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck was held under suspicion of being a communist by the FBI. According to Steinbeck’s son, the FBI could find no reason to legally prosecute Steinbeck so instead they ordered that his taxes be audited every year “just to be politically annoying” (Thomas Steinbeck, in an article for Huffington Post). Incidentally, one of the books strongest advocates was Eleanor Roosevelt. She visited migrant camps in 1940 and maintained that contrary to accusations, she did not find that the conditions of the camps had been exaggerated in The Grapes of Wrath.
My sources for this entry were two great articles: “Banned Books Awareness: The Grapes of Wrath” and “Grapes of Wrath and the Politics of Book Burning” from NPR.