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Politics of book burning: The Grapes of Wrath

 
 
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 11:53 am
“It's such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin. ... Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don't die because a book is forbidden reading.”
Librarian Gretchen Knief





Rick Wartzman's Obscene In The Extreme examines the banning of The Grapes Of Wrath in Kern County, Calif.

Read an excerpt. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95190615



Morning Edition, September 30, 2008 · Sept. 29 marks the beginning of the American Library Association's annual "Banned Books Week," a commemoration of all the books that have ever been removed from library shelves and classrooms. Politics, religion, sex, witchcraft " people give a lot of reasons for wanting to ban books, says Judith Krug of the ALA, but most often the bannings are about fear.

"They're not afraid of the book; they're afraid of the ideas," says Krug. "The materials that are challenged and banned say something about the human condition."

John Steinbeck's 1939 classic, The Grapes Of Wrath, which chronicles an Oklahoma family's hapless migration westward, is a perfect example. The book was an immediate best-seller around the country, but it was also banned and burned in a number of places, including Kern County, Calif. " the endpoint of the Joad family's migration.

Though fictional, Steinbeck's novel was firmly rooted in real events: Three years before the book was published a drought in the Dust Bowl states forced hundreds of thousands of migrants to California. Penniless and homeless, many landed in Kern County.

When the book came out, some of the powers that be in the county thought that they had been portrayed unfairly; they felt that Steinbeck hadn't given them credit for the effort they were making to help the migrants. One member of the county board of supervisors denounced 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.

Rick Wartzman, author of the new book Obscene In The Extreme, says what happened in Kern County illustrates the deep divide between left and right in California in the 1930s.

One powerful local player who pushed for the ban was Bill Camp, head of the local Associated Farmers, a group of big landowners who were avid opponents of organized labor. Camp and his colleagues knew how to get a bill passed in the state Legislature " and they also knew how to be physical.

"They knew how to work with tire irons, pick handles and bricks," says Wartzman. "Things could get really ugly and violent."

Camp wanted to publicize the county's opposition to The Grapes Of Wrath. Convinced that many migrants were also offended by their depiction in the novel, he recruited one of his workers, Clell Pruett, to burn the book.

Pruett had never read the novel, but he had heard a radio program about it that made him angry, and so he readily agreed to take part in what Wartzman describes as a "photo op." The photo shows Camp and another leader of the Associated Farmers standing by as Pruett holds the book above a trash can and sets it on fire.

Meanwhile, local librarian Gretchen Knief was working quietly to get the ban overturned. At the risk of losing her job, she stood up to the county supervisors and wrote a letter asking them to reverse their decision.

"It's such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin," she wrote. "Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don't die because a book is forbidden reading."

Knief's argument may have been eloquent, but it didn't work. The supervisors upheld the ban, and it remained in effect for a year and a half.

Still, says Krug, the censorship of The Grapes Of Wrath was a key event in the creation of the Library Bill of Rights, the statement Krug describes as ensuring that "as American citizens we have the right to access whatever information we wish without anyone looking over our shoulders. ... that we have the right to utilize this information once we have acquired it."

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Type: Discussion • Score: 6 • Views: 4,584 • Replies: 21
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ossobuco
 
  2  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 11:56 am
@edgarblythe,
Book burning, etc. can be dangerous in other ways. Savonarola (see bonfire of the vanities) was himself burned in about the same place on piazza Signoria about five years later.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  2  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 12:05 pm
Quote:
Wartzman said Steinbeck’s novel, the controversy it generated, and the class struggle in Depression-era America are issues still relevant today for several reasons:

• “The central conundrum of capitalism is the same now as it was in 1939: How can there be so much lack in the midst of so much plenty?

“We are now at a point in time when income inequality, the gap between the rich and poor in this country, is at its widest point since the 1920s,” he said " although today it is not so much small farmers who are losing their land to the banks as it is homeowners who are foreclosing because they cannot afford exorbitant mortgage payments.

• The “Okie” legacy is still very much alive in the conservative values and politics of Kern County, Wartzman said, as well as in the “religious broadcasting” and country music immediately evident to him on the radio every time he drives north over the Grapevine.

• Migrants " albeit from south of the border " still make up the backbone of farm labor in Kern County and the Central Valley, he said, and prejudices against these modern-day outsiders still exist. “I would hope that someone out there is writing ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ of the Mixteco community,” he said.


Source: 'Obscene in the Extreme': Book examines Kern burning of 'Grapes of Wrath'
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 12:47 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
quote: “I would hope that someone out there is writing ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ of the Mixteco community,” he said.

I would submit that T C Boyle's "The Tortilla Curtain" fits that description.
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 03:22 pm
The title of this article took me somewhat by surprise. I don't recall that this book was given such treatment. But, it makes sense when the facts are considered.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 03:27 pm
@edgarblythe,
right, re Boyle..
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 03:32 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
I've a well read/well lived friend who has resided in the gopher fight zone in Kern County for several years now and has gotten familiar with lots of folks. I'll email him about his take on this (wish he'd post).
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 03:49 pm
@ossobuco,
I forgot, he emailed yesterday that he's gone for a week. With luck, I'll remember to ask him to check this thread when he gets back.
0 Replies
 
hamburger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 03:50 pm
@edgarblythe,
hitler's germany was probably most "infamous" for book burning in recent history .
my parents had a good selection of books and my brother and i were encouraged to read all manner of books .
only after the war had ended in 1945 did our parents tell us that they had hidden away some books during the "1,000 year reich" and didn't dare take them out .
they did survive the "1,000 year reich" - for which i'm glad - some of those books made it to canada .
most of those books were rather harmless cartoon books - but they had political overtones or were written by political "undesirables" .
the shame of it !
hbg

http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/book_burning33.jpg

edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 07:09 pm
@hamburger,
The book banning was much more forceful in that time in Germany. I probably would have got caught and paid the penalty.

In my own family, no books ever were banned, but having a mind to appreciate them was. Which was much harder to overcome.
kuvasz
 
  1  
Reply Fri 3 Oct, 2008 08:55 am
first, you burn books.

then, you burn people.
edgarblythe
 
  2  
Reply Fri 3 Oct, 2008 01:15 pm
@kuvasz,
http://images.chron.com/apps/comics/images/2008/10/3/Boffo.757.g.gif
0 Replies
 
SYNRON
 
  0  
Reply Fri 3 Oct, 2008 11:49 pm
@edgarblythe,
Absolutely--But the Nazis were fond of book burning. The Grapes of Wrath is a wonderful book which only morons would try to ban. Huckleberry finn, misunderstood by most, has been ragged by hypersensitive minorities who do not understand that it is basically an Anti-Slavery screed.

I could never understand why Germany banned Mein Kampf or why the Soviets got so upset at Solzhenitzen's Gulag series. There should be no book banning.
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Oct, 2008 07:06 am
@SYNRON,
Agreed. Free exchange of ideas and opinion. If anyone disagrees with a book or idea, they have the same freedom to express opposition, through their own books and/or public expression.
SYNRON
 
  0  
Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2008 07:25 pm
@edgarblythe,
But. Edgar Blythe, did you know that when an author who wrote a book critical of Obama appeared on an evening Radio show in Chicago to talk about the book, the phone lines were jammed with people who told the station-WGN- that the man should not be allowed to spew lies about Obama.

That sounds like Nazi Germany to me and it is a close comparison. The black political scumbags on the South side of Chicago who got Obama started and who hope to get a good deal of largesse when he is elected are completely intolerantof any opposing views. That is because they are black and have "suffered" so they consider themselves "victims" and no one,no one can speak against victims or thier savior--obama
0 Replies
 
Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2008 07:33 pm
@edgarblythe,
^^^^ Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes Rolling Eyes ^^^^

(shhh!)

Cool
SYNRON
 
  0  
Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2008 07:44 pm
@edgarblythe,
And. you should note that McCain posters are being torn down as we speak in thePeople's Republic of Massachusetts
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2008 08:07 pm
@Rockhead,
I know who the poster is, and I have it on ignore, rock. It can rattle on for as many pages as it likes, and I will not see a bit of it.
Rockhead
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2008 08:12 pm
@edgarblythe,
Sorry, Ed.

Ima restrict myself to music and sailing till my sentence is imposed.

(I will watch elsewhere, of course, and may not be able to stop my urge for a comedy post or two...)
SYNRON
 
  0  
Reply Sun 5 Oct, 2008 08:20 pm
@edgarblythe,
edgarblythe--Don't you have any principles? Shame on you. I counted on you as one of the real defenders of Freedom of Speech--so your post on the Grapes of Wrath was only hypocrasy?
0 Replies
 
 

 
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