Steinbeck never goes into describing what any of the main characters look like. I only noticed when I finished the book, because they all felt so close to the core of human existence. Their appearance made no difference to their survival, or to them. The most powerful scene comes right at the end when a young woman, who just lost her baby breastfeeds a middle-aged man, who is dieing of starvation. That scene must have been encripted in my subconscious, because when I reached the final paragraph I remembered the scene having been described by other people in the past. Such powerful books penetrate our collective memory like beams of light and it is almost possible to grasp the significance of both volumes by referring to that last paragraph, provided that one has the political references to do so.
The book is to me the most powerful historic account of the transition to capitalism, essentially identifying its realistic dimensions. Zizec claims that capitalism resembles a religion more closely than a socioeconomic movement and this book is proof of that. At a time when close-knit agricultural societies depended on cooperation and faith in acting for the common good, whether the core unit was a family, a village or a camp of workers, capitalism raised the idea of profit to be the ultimate symbol of success, against any common sense or logic that would benefit the notion of society as a symbiotic organism. Profit lifted individualism to such a point, where humans are not even satisfying their social needs anymore. Through that perspective, it is not surprising that psychoanalysis has become essential to capitalism, as the only way to simulate a situation of cooperation, human contact and expression – by turning all that into a commodity.
What is also unprescedingly fascinating to the modern reader, who lives in a capitalist society, is that the whole process of survival through cooperation is deeply satisfying to read about, even though the book describes an extremely stressed group of people, having been forced to migrate, face racism, unemployment, poverty, violence and cruelty. I believe this is due to our own inability to return to that warm place of profound and selfless love for one another. Money and assistance are exchanged with consideration only to urgency, which must be a deeply offensive act to any capitalist.
I have never read a more dangerous book to current state of affairs and yet Assange is in confinement. The US should have banned the book and proclaimed it terrorist, unless it would be pretty clear that it wouldn’t be read by many. I wonder how many people have read it and what would happen if everyone had to stop what they were doing immediately and be forced to read it, as the future of humanity depended on it.