Steinbeck’s alarming simile launches a powerful, gripping overview of societal and economic malaise, which resonates uncomfortably with much current public discourse on jobs (or their loss, precarity or deficiency) and inequality. It articulates in deeply human terms the lack of security, opportunity, hope and fulfilment that can drive migration, protests and other assorted manifestations of despair.

A key element here is the reminder to distinguish results from causes.  To which I’d add only the need, in an age of information deluge, to listen for signal, not noise, signal, not noise. Signal, not noise.

‘The western land, nervous under the beginning change. The Western States, nervous as horses before a thunderstorm.  The great owners, nervous, sensing a change, knowing nothing of the nature of the change.  The great owners, striking at the immediate thing, the widening government, the growing labour unity; striking at new taxes, at plans; not knowing these things are results, not causes.  Results, not causes; results, not causes. The causes lie deep and simply – the causes are a hunger in a stomach, multiplied a million times; a hunger in a single soul, hunger for joy and some security, multiplied a million times; muscles and mind aching to grow, to work, to create, multiplied a million times.’ 

Source: John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (London: Mandarin Paperback, 1995), p. 173

Photo credits: Conquero and analogicus at

Quotation - John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath


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