Grapes of Wrath
Artist: John Steinbeck
Date of Action: 1939
Region: North America
Location: Kern County, California
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Confronting Bodies: School Board of Kern County California, Associated Formers of California
Description of Artwork: The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
The Incident: Many Americans were disgusted by how Steinbeck described the poor and accused him of exaggerating the conditions to make a political point. Many of Steinbeck’s critics attacked his social and political views; but, again, part of its continuing impact stems from its passionate depiction of the plight of the poor and the working class. Bryan Cordyack wrote, “Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book’s depiction of California farmers’ attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a ‘pack of lies’ and labeled it ‘communist propaganda’.” One member of the county board of supervisors condemned the book as a “libel and lie.” In August 1939, by a vote of 4 to 1, the board approved a resolution banning The Grapes of Wrath from county libraries and schools.
Results of Incident: The censorship of The Grapes of Wrath would actually be a key factor in the creation of the Library Bill of Rights, the statement that is described by librarians as ensuring that American citizens have the right to access whatever information they wish without question, and the right to utilize that information.