I’m Thankful I Don’t Live Back Then

Thanksgiving Eve was intentionally quiet this year celebrating with my husband and two cats, one of whom facing terminal cancer. On top of that worry, I must still be suffering from the post-election shock and I-can’t-find-an-agent-for-my-book malaise. After dinner, we watched the 1940 highly-rated film The Grapes of Wrath based on the novel by John Steinbeck. And later that night, I finished reading my first western novel – True Grit by Charles Portis. This book is the basis for the acclaimed John Wayne film recently remade by the Coen brothers to more closely align with the original story.

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A much-needed update of The Grapes of Wrath is planned by Steven Spielberg but hung up in family copyright battles. Hopefully, the next version, if there is one, will follow the book’s storyline more closely. The Grapes of Wrath film cut the novel’s ending, that makes the story so endearing, to make it more socially acceptable and optimistic. It’s a shame so many audiences still require an often unrealistic but happy finale.

Despite the stories taking place about 60 years apart, they have many similarities including scenes in Oklahoma. In fact, the lead character Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, played by Henry Fonda, was paroled from prison in McAlester, Oklahoma. During their search for the murderer, Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn meet Captain Finch in McAlester. Although at that time, it was not much of a town just a few buildings.

True Grit is set in 1870 when Oklahoma was not yet a state but an Indian Territory and published nearly a hundred years later in 1968. The Grapes of Wrath takes place during the Depression in the 1930’s when Oklahoma also suffered from the Dust Bowl and came out relatively quickly in 1939.

Both stories deal with human misery and devastating conditions for less prosperous Americans. Seeing these films or reading these books should cure anyone feeling that their life is not going right. Mattie’s and Rooster’s lives were truly hard. And sixty years later, the Joad family faced an appalling existence despite relocating across the country in a rickety truck. These books and movies meet what I consider a sign of greatness. They leave you wanting to know more about the characters – as if they were real people not imaginary.

Many will say they don’t need to read the books when they can see the movies. But I would argue that True Grit, an easy 200 or so page read (compared to over 500 pages for The Grapes of Wrath), is well worth your time. If your life is harder than those characters, you have my total sympathy. But if you’re like most, complaining about disappointments we all encounter in life, these books and films may do just the trick to regain your mojo. At least they did it for me.


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