Note-The American Dream—the ideal by which you have equal opportunity for your aspirations and goals to be achieved.
The freedom to achieve success with hard work and each according to their abilities to achieve success regardless of class or circumstances of birth.
After meeting Texas Guinan, the queen of speakeasies, I found myself again outside “The Meeting Place” tavern. I wondered who I would meet today!
I took a stool at the bar opposite a photo of the Dust Bowl in 1936. It showed farm equipment buried in dust. It was a depressing photo.
I ordered a beer and continued to study this tragic historical photo. A fella climbed onto the stool next to me. I studied him in the mirror behind the bar. He was a distinguished looking gentleman with dark hair, penetrating eyes and a mustache. He wore a tweed jacket over an open-collared shirt, dark trousers and black and white two-toned shoes.
He ordered a “Jack Rose” cocktail.
“I never heard of a drink like that,” I said.
“It’s an apple brandy based cocktail with lemon juice and grenadine. It’s my favorite drink,” said the fella smiling.
“Sounds good, I’ll have to try one later.”
We both took a sip of our drinks. I noticed he was looking sadly at the Dust Bowl photo.
“Must have been terrible times,” I commented.
“Yes, they were bad times, it was part of the Great Depression. I wrote a book about it. It was called, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
I drained my beer mug in one gulp!
“You’re John Steinbeck,” I stammered.
“Yes, the one and only,” he laughed.
“I’ve read the book and saw the movie with Henry Fonda.”
“It was a good adaptation of my book, but there was much more to the Depression, it was a complex time.”
I thought this was my chance to learn a few things about the 30’s by picking Steinbeck’s brain.
“Your book was a chronicle of the Depression. It was a damning commentary on the economic and social system that gave rise to the Depression. Did you do a lot of research about the plight of the Okies?”
“Oh yes, lots, I lived and worked with them and I made the journey with one family to California.”
“What is the interpretation of the title, “The Grapes of Wrath?”
“Well, the drought and dust destroyed a large part of agricultural production and farm jobs, which worsened the Depression. People were angry thus the wrath. The greed, self-interest and selfish ways of the landowners and banks in the 20’s came to a head. The grapes are a symbol of plenty and renewal. So, out of anger came renewal!”
“Bartender, give my friend here another “Jack Rose” and make one for me too.”
Steinbeck laughed, “We don’t drink to get drunk. We drink to enjoy life!”
“Hey, I like that saying. So, if I get a hangover it’s as a consequence not as a punishment!”
We both broke out in prolonged laughter.
“I liked the passage in your book when Grandpa says what he’s going to do when he gets to California and escapes the dust.”
“What passage is that?” said Steinbeck after taking a sip of the “Jack Rose”.
“ Well, Grandpa says, “I’m gonna pick me some grapes and I’m gonna squash ‘em on my face and let ‘em run down my chin. Then I’m gonna pick me a wash tub full of grapes and I’m gonna sit in ‘em, and scrooge around, and let the juice run down my pants!”
I took a sip of my cocktail and licked my lips.
“I think that is a very funny and sad passage.”
“Well, the book is about the struggles of men to accomplish a goal and something gets in the way like greed and self-interest, and then they get very angry.”
“I know the Depression started on October 29th, 1929 with the Stock Market Crash. But what led up to it?”
“Well, by mid 1929, companies were losing their worth on the stock market. All through the 1920’s people were buying stocks on 90% credit, margin buying they called it. An individual could buy a stock with 10% of the cost and the broker would lend them the other 90%. Then they would use the promise of the stocks future earnings to buy more stocks. The system was abused and huge sums of imaginary money existed only on paper! People became “paper” millionaires. A credit buyer would hold the stock until the price went up and sell it for a profit. But the bubble burst in October of ’29. The value of stocks went up faster than the value of the companies the stocks represented. Panic selling started and prices fell. The brokers wanted their money repaid, but nobody could repay their debt. The market crashed and stocks lost 50% of their value!”
“Wow! A horror story of greed and carelessness in the 1920’s!”
“That’s right, my friend, but the Crash wasn’t the only cause.”
“I know people started to get panicky and withdrew their money from banks.”
“Right, over 9000 banks failed. Deposits were uninsured and people lost their savings! Then people stopped buying things, production went down and many jobs were lost. Unemployment was over 25%!”
“I remember my father telling me about the “soup kitchens” that sprang up to help feed the unemployed.”
“Yes, most served only soup and bread, some gave out coffee and doughnuts. Government unemployment relief was nonexistent!”
We both drained our cocktails.
“Was there any policy at that time with Europe that was part of the cause?”
“Yes, there was. As businesses went under, the government created a tariff to help protect companies. But this backfired because it led to less trade with other countries along with retaliation.”
“And this is where your book, “The Grapes of Wrath” about the Dust Bowl comes in.”
“Right, in the 20’s, farmers over-cultivated and over-produced on their land with the new mechanized methods. So, in the 30’s, the drought came with winds that blew all the topsoil away! Farms were sold for no profit or nothing at all, and people deserted the land. Food production went down which added to the woes of the Depression!”
“Your book tells us a lot about the greed and generosity in this depressing upheaval.”
“Yes, greed perpetuates itself but so does kindness. I tried to show the Depression on a human level.”
“This discussion reminds me of something you said that I read somewhere.”
“Oh yes? What’s that?” Steinbeck said eagerly.
“You said and I quote:
“It has always seemed strange to me…that the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness and honesty, understanding and feeling, are connected with failure in our system.
And those traits we detest, sharpness and greed, meanness and acquisition, egoism and self-interest, are the traits of success.
And while men admire the quality of the first, they love the produce of the second.”
“I remember saying that. And that just about sums it up,” Steinbeck said as he walked out the door.
Good and bad. Srong and weak. Rich and poor. The world exists through opposites. What is your opposite Dave?
Mine is my wife. If she see’s this, please forward all mail to General Hospital, room 118, bed 2.
Yep this was fun to read. And California can be a dust bowl too. Nothing changes does it? Tom made me laugh too….! Thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts again, enjoyed it as ever. Jane
Always been a fan of Steinbeck ,Dave ! I thought “The Grapes of Wrath” was a biblical quotation , though ,as ever, I haven’t checked w/ #wiki or #Google ….before landing here to comment …..
The Grapes of Wrath came from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, an American patriotic song.
But I was giving my interpretation of what I thought Steinbeck himself was thinking of when he came up with that title!
The song has Biblical connotations though.
You are so lucky Dave that you don’t live in U.S.
It’s still 1930 and not getting any better.So many people have no jobs,so many lost their homes living in the cars.
George W.Bush destroyed the whole country and Obama so called change has made no change.The only change Obama made is good pension for himself.Stay where you are keep writing and keep warm.
Have to agree with Vesna! The “change” Obama promised happened, but it was not change for the better. The American Dream is dying a slow death. Wish I could say I was optimistic that it can be revived.
Dave, you are a fine writer, but keep the blogs light. I get depressed thinking about the Great Depression and while the Grapes of Wrath is a literary classic, it disturbs me to read about specifics of the Depression of the 30s, the years when I was a pre-schooler and too poor to have dust.
What a wonderful way to show the past.
Now if we could get some of our children
to read this we might get some where.
Lets not make it a political lesson though.