Yesterday afternoon, tired of watching Christmas movies, I spent two hours towards my recent goal of watching all 100 of the American Film Institute’s best movies of all time. I watched The Grapes of Wrath, a historical film released in 1940.
I will admit that my first reaction to the movie was that Henry Fonda was a total hottie. I mean…..
Let’s face it; he had the unshaven look nailed way before the 21st Century millennials. But my second reaction was a realization that it would have sucked to live during the Great Depression. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to admit that I am Kris, and I am morbidly fascinated by the Dust Bowl.
The Grapes of Wrath, of course, is only peripherally related to the Dust Bowl of the early 1930s. In the film — as well as John Steinbeck’s terribly depressing novel — the Joad family leaves their Oklahoma farm that has been destroyed by the dust storms for California to find jobs. I would assume that Steinbeck’s novel was reasonably accurate as it was released in 1939. The film leaves out some of more emotionally disturbing elements featured in the book.
The film ends on a relatively positive note, unlike the book, after which you want to slit your wrists. But what really struck me was how completely unfamiliar most of us are with true poverty. I’m not talking about how we all struggled when we were first married, but the kind of poverty where you literally don’t know where your next meal is coming from.
Almost daily I find myself saying something like, “I can’t believe how expensive bacon is these days.” Or, “It’s so inconvenient to have to wait TWO FULL DAYS for my Amazon delivery in this day and age.” Or maybe, “When you own your home, it’s always something, and when you own two homes, it’s always something times two.” Sound familiar? First World Problems.
You know what’s inconvenient? Having to walk several hours each day just to access drinkable water. Or, having to attend Mass or worship God in secret to avoid getting martyred. Or maybe having to mix flour with mud to have something to feed your kids.
I know we have poverty in this country. But we also have government assistance to buy food and relatively livable minimum wages and school breakfasts and lunches. Sure, there are roadblocks that many people face that I can’t even imagine. But even the very poor in our own country can find a meal most days.
Those people who left their homes and families behind in Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas in the 1930s because they could no longer grow (or sell even if they COULD grow) wheat or corn scarcely had a nickel with which to feed their families. I can’t imagine packing everything you needed to live onto a truck that might or might not make it more than 10 miles to a strange land in search of a job that may or may not exist.
Our ancestors were some tough people.
By the way, the other calamity with which I am fascinated is the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. But until I watch a movie dealing with it, I will spare all of you my thoughts!