Palos Verdes Peninsula High School

Opinion: The Grapes of COVID-19 — How John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is relevant today

During this pandemic and era of political unrest, I have found it easy to feel as though our world and our nation is enduring unprecedented times. While surely most of us have never lived through the plague of an illness as contagious and deadly as COVID-19, literature serves to demonstrate that just as those that came before us survived difficult times, we, too, shall persevere. Specifically, I found “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck especially relevant to our current situation. 

“The Grapes of Wrath” details the journey of the Joad family traveling from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Interspersed with depiction of the family’s hardships, Steinbeck describes the social and political setting of the United States at the time, often using pastoral analogies to illustrate the emotions of Americans.

While reading the novel, I couldn’t help but compare us to the “sleeping life… waiting for animals or for the wind … all passive but armed with appliances of activity.” I wish there was something I could do – something anyone could do — but we are held almost helpless against this virus by lack of support and lack of action. Despite the panic, everything feels disturbingly calm and surreal, almost like an ocean without waves. I suspect that many during the Dust Bowl catastrophe felt similarly —  powerless and afraid. We need not feel alone in our helplessness, yet only do our best to support those around us and remain confident in our ability to overcome great difficulty.

Even as time drags on, and it feels we may never return to normal, the Joads remind us throughout “The Grapes of Wrath” to never lose hope. Ma insists that “We’re the people — we go on … A different time’s comin’.”

Even through massive hardship, death, and disease, the family maintained that better times would come; when they lost almost everything, hope remained. Hope was the fuel igniting the fire in their bellies, encouraging them to fight for a better society for themselves and their fellow men and women. We, too, must keep faith in ourselves and in the American people to look towards a time of freedom and health. By working together and emphasizing unity, we will be able to overcome this challenge. As Ma says, “All we got is the family unbroke.”

Even socially distanced, we have each other to rely on. While adversity often brings division, solidarity and unanimity are essential to enduring this Coronavirus pandemic.