Grapes of Wrath Session 1

First Grapes of Wrath Book Talk Held at Fremont Library

By Shirley Gilbert

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Margery Leonard led this first session of The Grapes of Wrath.

Margery Leonard led this first session of The Grapes of Wrath.

Seventeen participants sat in rapt attention in the Fremont Main Library as Margery Leonard, co-chair of the One Book, One Community program and AAUW Fremont Branch member, explored the many fascinating themes in this first discussion session of the 2011/2012 Fremont book-reading season featuring John Steinbeck’s award-winning classic novel Grapes of Wrath.

Kathy Bray, Fremont Branch member, talked about the selection of The Grapes of Wrath and introduced Margery Leonard.

She described the difficult and deliberative journey the One Book, One Community committee took to select this particular book in the fourth year of the One Book, One Community program.  Many non-fiction and fiction books were considered making certain that the book selected was a new approach and not imitative of anything that went before.

“In August,” said Kathy, “the process narrowed to two finalists.  The reason Grapes of Wrath was selected has to do with the fact that the economy was a major factor in the 1939 novel and is a major factor today.   In fact so many of the themes in the book are relevant today.”

Committee members also agreed that the book, on second reading, was even more powerful and pertinent.   Margery Leonard, the evening’s leader, felt the book is the most shocking book she ever read.  “I got even more out of it the second time around.”

Margery began her teaching career in Hayward in 1968.  In 2009 she retired after 28 years as a teacher, the last 11 years as chair of the language arts department at Newark Junior High School.  This book is particularly relevant to Margery.   She’s a fifth generation Californian and comes from a long line of farmers and teachers.

Several questions were explored and talked feelingly about by Margery and the audience.  Here are a few of those themes:

  • The importance of family both then and today was discussed by the participants.   Many talked about people moving in with family during our own difficult times and noted that the survival of the family was one of the battles the Joads fought on a daily basis since work was hard to come by and food was in short supply.
  • The group discussed the title of the book and Margery passed along that it came from the second verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic (He is trampling out the vintage where the Grapes of Wrath are stored).
  • There was considerable talk about the relevance of the book to what is happening in our own economy:  home foreclosures by the bank;   lack of jobs and, as a result, more homelessness and poverty;   the importance of the essentials of life — food, family closeness and survival.
  • Much was said about the spiritual themes in the book and underscored by the quote:  “maybe all man’s got one big soul…”
  • The strength of Ma in the book and the emasculation of Pa were explored by the group as well as the anger and frustration that were in the hearts of the novel’s main characters, a manifestation we see in today’s recession prone society.
Here is a cross-section of the 17 participants who discussed various perspectives and themes in The Grapes of Wrath.

Here is a cross-section of the 17 participants who discussed various perspectives and themes in The Grapes of Wrath.

At the end of the discussion period, Margery described some of the exciting upcoming programs:

Tuesday, November 15, Fremont Main Library, 2400 Stevenson Blvd., 4:00-5:00 p.m. Audry Lynch, instructor and authority on the works of John Steinbeck, will discuss The Grapes of Wrath and its author.   “He’s the kind of author,” Ms. Lynch says, “who you can relate to — the people, the history.  It’s relevant to most Americans.” Instructor Lynch has written several books on Steinbeck, gives tours of Steinbeck Country and leads classes in his work.   You won’t want to miss this fascinating session.

January:  This month the movie The Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda will be featured in the theater in Niles.

February:  A professor from Cal Tech will discuss the great depression of 1929 and how it relates to Grapes of Wrath.

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