[Tom] Joad looked at him with drooped eyes, and then he laughed. “Why, you’re the preacher. You’re the preacher. I jus’ passed a recollection about you to a guy not an hour ago.”
“I was a preacher,” said the man seriously. “Reverend Jim Casy — was a Burning Busher. Used to howl out the name of Jesus to glory. And used to get an irrigation ditch so squirmin’ full of repented sinners half of ’em like to drowned. But not no more,” he sighed. “Jus Jim Casy now. Ain’t got the call no more. Got a lot of sinful idears — but they seem kinda sensible.”
Joad said, “You’re bound to get idears if you go thinkin’ about stuff. Sure I remember you. You use ta give a good meetin’. I recollect one time you give a whole sermon walkin’ around on your hands, yellin’ your head off. Ma favored you more than anybody. An’ Granma says you was just lousy with the spirit.” Joad dug at his rolled coat and found the pocket and brought out his pint. The turtle moved a leg but he wrapped it up tightly. He unscrewed the cap and held out the bottle. “Have a little snort?”
Casy took the bottle and regarded it broodingly. “I ain’t preachin’ no more much. The sperit ain’t in the people much no more; and worse’n that, the sperit ain’t in me no more. ‘Course, now an’ again the sperit gets movin’ an’ I rip out a meetin’, or when folks sets out food I give ’em a grace, but my heart ain’t in it. I on’y do it ’cause they expect it.”
Joad mopped his face with his cap again. “You ain’t too damn holy to take a drink, are you?” he asked.
Casy seemed to see the bottle for the first time. He tilted it and took three big swallows. “Nice drinkin’ liquor,” he said.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939
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John Steinbeck’s now classic book of the Great Depression has been banned, burned, and challenged since it was first published in 1939.
Opponents of the book since its publication have found it vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, misogynic, pro-union, and have objected to its portrayal of human life “in such a bestial way”. Of course life for countless Americans during the Great Depression, especially those in the Dust Bowl forced to become migrants, was in fact vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, anti-woman (anti-man and anti-child for that matter), and many did live like animals. As Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time wrote,
Even the tumbleweeds that had kept farm animals alive were in short supply. [Fred] Folkers had been one of the first nesters to salt his thistle, making it edible for cattle. Now some of his neighbors wondered: why couldn’t people eat tumbleweeds as well? Ezra and Goldie Lowery, homesteaders in No Man’s Land since 1906, came up with an idea to can thistles in brine. Friends asked them how they could each such a thing, the nuisance weed of the prairie. It was as dry as cotton, as flavorless as cardboard, as prickly as cactus. Well, sure. Indeed they tasted like twigs, no debate there. But the Lowerys said these rolling thistles that the Germans had brought to the High Plains from the Russian steppe were good for you. High in iron and chlorophyll. Cimmaron County declared a Russian Thistle Week, with county officials urging people who were on relief to get out to fields and help folks harvest tumbleweeds
US efforts to stifle The Grapes of Wrath are detailed at the American Library Association (ALA) website page for “Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” (as of 2000):
Burned by the East St. Louis, III. Public Library (1939) [I’ve found mentions that the book was not in fact burned in this case and that the order was rescinded] and barred from the Buffalo, N.Y Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City, Mo. (1939); Kern County Calif, the scene of Steinbeck’s novel, (1939); Ireland ( 1953); Kanawha, Iowa High School classes (1980); and Morris, Manitoba (1982). … Challenged in Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District ( I 980); challenged as required reading for Richford,Vt. (1981) High School English students due to the book’s language and portrayal of a former minister who recounts how he took advantage of a young woman. Removed from two Anniston, Ala. high school libraries (1982), but later reinstated on a restrictive basis. Challenged at the Cummings High School in Burlington, N.C. (1986) as an optional reading assignment because the “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.” Although the parent spoke to the press, a formal complaint with the school demanding the book’s removal was not filed. Challenged at the Moore County school system in Carthage, N.C. (1986) because the book contains the phase “God damn:” Challenged in the Greenville, S.C. schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references.” Challenged in the Union City Tenn. High School classes (1993).
Just in time for the annual commemoration of Banned Books Week, the story of Kern County, California, case against The Grapes of Wrath now has its own book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” by Rick Wartzman (Public Affairs, September, 2008). Jonathan Yardley reviewed the book for The Washington Post the other week; and Mr. Wartzman has an article adapted from the new volume at AmericanHeritage.com.
Obscene details the Kern County Board of Supervisors resolution in August 1939 against the book. The county in the heart of the agricultural haven of the San Joaquin Valley was the haven sought by most Great Plains migrants, only to find themselves in squalid camps at the mercy of the anti-union fruit growers. After the resolution passed, the head librarian in the county wrote to the four members who voted for the ban,
If that book is banned today, what will be banned tomorrow? And what group will want a book banned the day after that? It’s such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin and may in the end lead to exactly the same thing we see in Europe today. Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading. If Steinbeck has written the truth, that truth will survive.
The Board of Supervisors lifted the ban in 1941.
According to a California Libraries article (at the California Council for the Humanities website), which also includes a history of the Kern County case, California Library Association president Sydney Mitchell had said the year before Grapes of Wrath was published, “Librarians should be all for democracy. In the totalitarian state the librarian becomes merely an agency for propaganda, for the dissemination of such information as the authorities care to pass on.” The following year, just before the book’s publication, the American Library Association (ALA) began to consider adoption of the first Library Bill of Rights (see below). And, according to Louise Robbins in Censorship and the American Library: The American Library Association’s Response to Threats to Intellectual Freedom, 1939-1969, “the nationwide ‘rash of bannings’ of Grapes of Wrath helped spur ALA’s appointment of an intellectual freedom committee in 1939.” No doubt aided too by six years of the Nazi book-burning campaign, and war in Europe.
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I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
Adopted June 18, 1948, by the ALA Council; amended February 2, 1961; amended June 28, 1967; amended January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 24, 1996.