One of the best films of 1940 was The Grapes of Wrath, based on John Steinbeck’s novel by the same name. The book was published in 1939, and because of it Steinbeck (1902-68) was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1940.
June and I recently watched The Grapes of Wrath again, and we were deeply moved by it as we were years ago when we first saw it. It is a great movie in many ways, as attested by the fact that is was nominated for seven Oscars, and at the 13th Academy Awards in February 1941 it won two. (The Oscar for best film was given that year to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca rather than to The Grapes of Wrath.)
As most of you know, The Grapes of Wrath depicts the terrible conditions of the “Okies” who left the “Dust Bowl” in Oklahoma during the mid-1930s and sought better things in California. While writing the book, John Steinbeck visited Bakersfield, California, and based part of his book on Arvin Federal Government Camp which he portrayed as “Weedpatch Camp.” (Here is a link to an interesting website about that camp.)
Many critics of the Obama administration are saying that health care reform should not have been undertaken in the midst of the “Great Recession.” But consider this fact: Social Security was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1935 when the unemployment rate was more than twice what it has been this year. The unemployment rate was a staggering 24.9% in 1933, 21.7% in 1934, and still at 20.1% in 1935.
In addition to seeking to create more jobs, the Roosevelt administration realized how important it was right away to help people in need. Social security soon provided much needed assistance for many people, and has continued to do so through all the years since.
And now millions of people need health care insurance as well as jobs, although the latter will be the major push of the new U.S. Republican Congresspersons. The number of people without health care benefits, however, has risen alarmingly in just the past year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of uninsured rose by 4,334,000 since 2008 and in 2009 stood at more than 50,670,000, or one out of every six persons in the country!
The Associated Farmers of California were highly displeased with how The Grapes of Wrath depicted the California farmer’s attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a “pack of lies” and labeled it “communist propaganda.” Similarly, President Roosevelt was also often called a communist or a socialist. And now we are seeing that same phenomena again: President Obama is often called a socialist by his detractors and even a communist by some, most notably by Alan Keyes.
If you haven’t (recently) read Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or seen John Ford’s film version of the novel, it would well be worth your time to read the book or at least to watch the movie, even though it was made seventy years ago. The situation today may not be as dire as it was then, but there are still a lot of suffering people who badly need help. And that needed help is more than families, churches, or even local communities are able to give.