27 February 2009

Socialist birthdays, vol II

To California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness. And some day—the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and there'll be a dead terror from it.

John Ernst Steinbeck III was born on this date in 1902.

I read "The Grapes of Wrath" in high school (yes, I have read a few classics, try not to faint), though, of course, the broader political context of the book went right by me. Nowadays, I think it's a minor miracle that such potentially destabilizing propaganda is allowed anywhere near the undeveloped minds of American youth.

That's one of the things I hope to accomplish in this series, as long as I can keep it going. In the days where being anything beyond a milquetoast mainstream Democrat makes everyone assume you've gone off to Cloudcuckooland and the very mention of the "s" word sends Serious people scurrying like ants to clear the kitchen, I want to remind Americans that there were at one time major public figures who were actual radicals.

Steinbeck came by his appreciation for the working poor in the Depression honestly. He was raised in a frontier town in California and, after graduating from Stanford in 1926, took various odd jobs as a migrant laborer to support his writing career, a career which was mostly unsuccessful until the publication of "Of Mice and Men" and "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939 and '40. These popular works would bring Steinbeck to the attention of Hoover's FBI, which was ever aware that anyone concerned with poverty in America was potentially problematic even if their contemporaries are not always as vigilant.