Last year my son Jamen and I heard the song “The Ghost of Tom Joad” written and performed by Bruce Springsteen.” The words to this song are powerful and the melody haunting. Jamen had read the novel Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck whose main character is Tom Joad. He had also seen the movie. He told me just enough to whet my interest. So I decided to read The Grapes of Wrath and watch the movie too. We also decided to learn this song in our band Wise Old River. This is a live performance of Wise Old River last year on WETS 89.5 on Studio One hosted by Dave Carter in Johnson City, TN. Unfortunately, it is without our wonderful bass player Stephen Marshall who was not yet in the band. It sounds much better and more complete with all four of us.
I want to share this song because it relates to all of us. It relates to our cities, states, and all of our countries. I am especially moved by all that is going on in the Middle East. People standing up for their basic human rights. Tom Joad stood up for the poor, downtrodden, and abused folk in his land. In his own way he tried to make a difference just as each of us in our time and situations can make a difference in the lives of those in our corner of the world.
If you want to know more about the book then read the following annotation I wrote for our local library—READ ON. Peace, Jeanne
Annotation: Written and Published March 2010
Recently I heard a song by Bruce Springsteen called, The Ghost of Tom Joad.” The words to this song were powerful and the melody haunting. My son had read the book Grapes of Wrath while in High School that the song’s character was taken from. He had also seen the movie. He told me just enough to whet my interest. So I decided to read The Grapes of Wrath.. I have to admit at first I found the narrative difficult to read, because the dialect the characters spoke was a bit hard to follow but once the characters and plot developed, I was drawn into the story and captivated by the particular circumstances and the complex characters so artfully and vividly described.
The historical fiction takes place in the 1930s in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era. The reader is introduced to Tom Joad who has just been released from prison because of good behavior. Tom was arrested for manslaughter when a man tried to kill him and he defended himself with a nearby shovel. Tom is heading home where he finds that his family and all of the families in the area have been run off their land. He is desperate to find out where his family is and what has happened to them. Through this journey we are introduced to many unique characters such as the preacher who no longer feels himself worthy to be a preacher, yet throughout the story he often responds as a person of that vocation. Tom also meets Muley who refused to go with his family when they left and finds himself wandering the land like a “ol’ graveyard ghos’ goin’ to neighbors’ houses in the night.” Through this character John Steinbeck expresses the pain experienced through the loss of their land. These families farmed this land for generations and had a deep connection with the land that so many of us have lost.
When Tom finally locates his family they all decide to go to California where everyone hopes to find work in the orchards, so they pack up all their belongings and the journey begins. The trip is long and difficult and there are many circumstances that this family experiences that are heart breaking. At times, John Steinbeck’s portrayal of these characters and their life situation moved me to tears. You will want to know what happens to this family and witness in the midst of despair a hope that never dies. John Steinbeck certainly deserved the Pulitzer Prize that he was awarded. This book is truly a treasure.