***Warning: there will be spoilers in this***
I first picked up a John Steinbeck book, The Grapes Of Wrath, last year. I’d decided I wanted to do a photo series focusing on the era of the Great Depression and the dustbowl, and it seemed like the best place to start my research.
I was never forced to read Steinbeck in school, and I’m glad, because I probably would have hated him then. As it was, coming to him on my own, I quickly fell in love with his lush, evocative, slightly verbose style. Reading The Grapes Of Wrath planted many seeds of inspiration in my head, just as I was hoping it would.
But there was a problem.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book, I did. And I greatly admire, to the best of my ability of one who wasn’t around to actually experience the impact it made, the voice Steinbeck gave to the working man, and how terribly he shook the foundations of the establishment. He broke ground, and did so with eloquence and dignity and a hand out behind him to his fellow man.
And yet, I have an actual grudge against him. I get angry when he comes up as a subject. Why? Because The Grapes Of Wrath has no ending.
After making me care about the Joads for hundreds of pages, after going through their entire journey with them, after becoming genuinely worried about their well-being, the book simply stops. It’s like he set it down and just forgot to finish it. I do not need every single loose end tied up for me to enjoy a story. In fact, I very often enjoy books which don’t resolve every last detail. Leaving the reader to infer and imagine how the rest of it will unfold is fine… up to a point.
When the Joads have barely been eking out an existence for the entire book, winter is coming, Tom and Rose of Sharon are in various states of compromised health, there’s a flood, they ate their last food, and there’s no more hope of work to make more money and get through winter with… you cannot stop THERE. That is just cruel.
We’ll never know what became of the Joads, if they survived the winter, or if they slowly starved and froze. We’ll never know if their luck turned around, and they ended up happy… which I desperately wanted for them. We will never know.
And as much as I loved Steinbeck’s writing style, I’m very wary of reading any of his other books now. He has proven himself an untrustworthy author, trifling with his reader’s emotions and leaving them without endings.
Geoff and I have had long arguments about the subject, him standing on the side of the issue that says leaving the ending completely open, with the Joad’s future in peril and insecure is more effective, and more representative of the hard life Steinbeck was trying to portray. Maybe. The book certainly caused an uproar. But I, as a reader, don’t care. I just want to know what happened to the Joads. And so I am angry at John Steinbeck for not only not finishing his story, but then letting himself grow and die, finalizing his silence on the subject of the Joad’s future.
I am, however, still going to continue with my photo series. John Steinbeck can’t take that away from me.