Professor, Merrick Chair of Western History, Oklahoma University
While working on his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel, Steinbeck wrote to a friend: "I’m trying to write history while it is happening and I don’t want to be wrong." Upon publication, Steinbeck’s controversial book met with a vehement and coordinated response from California’s corporate farming interests who labeled its author a Communist and a liar for his portrayal of their mistreatment of migrant agricultural workers and their families. However, Steinbeck received validation from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and from Philip LaFollette’s Senate Committee on Education and Labor, which held hearings in California in 1940. Yet, unlike so many literary works set in the present, The Grapes of Wrath has endured as a classic. This webinar explores both the contemporary conditions that gave rise to the novel, and its multi-layered nature, including its emphasis on human dignity, its biblical dimension, and its charting of a shift in social consciousness from individualism to group-centeredness—from “I to We”—that help explain its continuing popularity and relevance.
A collaboration with