A modern-day Grapes of Wrath

 
Family in Oklahoma in 1935 Many farming families were forced to migrate after a series of severe droughts

Seventy-five years after John Steinbeck wrote his searing portrait of the Joad family's journey west, what is life like now in Sallisaw, Oklahoma?

The horses splash around in a circle, linked to a central post, churning up the muddy water.

They're training, at what used to be a racecourse, the very lifeblood of this area.

It's closed now and with it, many jobs have gone. Decades separate this scene from the parched, cracked, tortured earth that Steinbeck evoked so graphically in the Grapes of Wrath 75 years ago.

But they are connected, perhaps, by the woes of the American working man and woman, a country uncertain of its future.

His tale is of a land, reduced to dust by nature and greed, the journey of those thus exiled to the promised land of California, where their hopes turn to ash.

After five years based in the US, I am going back to the UK soon - my final report will be on my thoughts about the US, hung around the Joad family's journey. The result will be on Radio Four's Broadcasting this Sunday.

When Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, controversy swirled around it as thick as any dust storm - branded as Red propaganda, and burned in some places - but it was also hugely successful.

I'm unsure whether that's because the strength of the characters and the iconic story of exodus, against an American setting, overcome the sometimes preachy agit prop. Or whether the very moralistic tale of the struggle of the struggle of the poor and downtrodden spoke to the times.

At any rate, the novel is none too popular in this town. I talk to one man who says it made the insult "Okies" stick - and he recalls how it was used against him in California.

I talk to the owner of the one bank in the area that survived the great depression - and get his reaction to Steinbeck's characterisation of the banks as faceless monsters.

More reflections soon.

 
Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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