Exactly 75 years ago today, The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is such a great book, which shows humanity at its very best during the hardest of times. It’s remarkable that just a couple of years later, Ayn Rand would publish The Fountainhead — the psychopathic answer to it. A book that answers Steinbeck’s question, “What is it to be a human?” Rand’s answer: to act like a reptile.
The book starts with a drought and ends with a flood — and through it all, the Joads manage on. I am, I suppose, an optimist. I actually think that the Joads are a good representation of who we are as a species — flawed and slow to learn as we may be. It goes along with my 95/5 theory. I think that 95% of all people just want to live their quiet lives. All the problems in the world are due to 5% of the people who ruin everything for the rest of us. A great deal of cultural effort goes into explaining how we would be lost without that 5% — too much effort if it were such a social good.
What most struck me when I first read The Grapes of Wrath was the ending. I don’t think there has ever been such a beautiful ending to a novel. A Tale of Two Cities is also great. It’s ending is beautiful, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” But it is pale compared to this, which still makes me cry:
Happy anniversary to the public acknowledgement of the greatness of The Grapes of Wrath!