Some nights ago, while I was struggling with how to introduce this piece, I decided that the only reasonable course was to reread John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. There they all were, Tom and Ma Joad, Preacher Casy, Rose of Sharon, Uncle John, Ruthie and Winfield, the bank agents, the truck, Route 66, California. The little story, the story in the story, is about what they learn from each other, what becomes of this sharecropper family evicted from their land in Oklahoma, battered by wind, poverty and exploitation. Then there is the story surrounding the story, the historical story of the Depression Dust Bowl, of labor resistance, of human suffering and death. That larger story is both roots and atmosphere of the novel, elevating the story of the small Joad family into an act of political exegesis. Then there are the stories but half-told in the novel, the stories of the characters not placed on center stage like Tom and Ma Joad, but who move in and out of the story only as they have meaning for Tom or Ma. If The Grapes of Wrath were Rose's story, or Winfield's, we would know them all differently.

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