Burning Steinbeck

The Kansas City Star has an interview with Rick Wartzman, author of Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. As I’ve noted before, Steinbeck currently has a reputation as a ideologue and crowd-pleaser—though despite his insularity and ignorance, he won the Nobel Prize in literature 1962—but Wartzman points out that there was a point where Steinbeck was considered a real threat to the establishment:

“Steinbeck didn’t quite call for revolution, but he came really close,” [says Wartzman]. And (the novel) was so popular, I think there was a general measure of fear by the establishment that this could set things off, be the match at the tinderbox. It’s a novel that’s still incredibly powerful, not only on the level of censorship, but some of its economic messages are resonating today louder than ever.

“You look at those passages where Steinbeck is talking about how, when people are hungry and in need, they’re going to take what they want by force. Those were upsetting words in the late 1930s. The Russian Revolution was still very fresh in people’s minds and, in fact, for many intellectuals in this country it was still a model for where they wanted to go, and the prospect of some form of socialism was very, very real. It was a scary book.”

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