Steinbeck And The Bikes Of Wrath

Last night, dressed in my usual winter fashionista outfit of Bed- Sox-with-matching-Wheat-Pack, I sat up watching The Bikes of Wrath. Not generally one for late night TV my interest was piqued by a blog, Exploring my own backyard by Graeme Cash, and his recent post on Cannery Row, Monterey: great photos of places I’ve heard about but never visited.

The Bikes Of Wrath is a documentary film made to reenact the journey depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Set in 1930s America, it follows the Joad family who are escaping drought and the Depression in Oklahoma and are heading to California for a better life.

Five young Australian lads opt to cycle the 2600 km journey to best take in the countryside and recreate the tough slog of the original migrants setting off with $420 between them, the modern day equivalent of the Joad’s $18, aiming to reach their destination in thirty days.

Having had minimal cycling experience, the lads are ill prepared. They purchase musical instruments on their arrival in Oklahoma expecting to raise funds busking along the way, transported in bike trailers, which only causes further dramas. Within days there are fractures and torn muscles.

I was full of trepidation when the young men camped for the first night in Sallisaw. Visions of the 2005 Australian movie, Wolf Creek came flooding back. (Three road-trippers in remote Australia are plunged into danger when they accept help from a friendly local. Let’s just summarise by saying that meat hooks feature.)

Through chance encounters with everyday Americans, the cyclists expand on the novel’s core themes of migration, inequality and the perceived land of opportunity. The group (subtlety) explores whether America has progressed since the book was written, discussing the wealth gap, immigration and the American Dream. 

The people they meet along the way are warm, kind and fascinating. This is an America not seen by most, certainly Down Under. I loved the human connections, the characters, and particularly the locals reading excerpts from the novel.

If you’re in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help—the only ones.

This year is the 80th anniversary of this Pulitzer winning novel. It was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. 

How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.

To be honest, I never “got” this book when it was compulsory textbook reading. At 13 or 14 years of age, not surprising. It’s big on concepts and honestly, I battled deciphering the dialogue. This doco should be referenced in all schools with its historic photographs of landscape, the people, and the times.

Great viewing. Thought provoking, warm, and with a cast of characters…….

Off to the Library today – for a copy of the book and the movie!

9 thoughts on “Steinbeck And The Bikes Of Wrath

      1. I’ve checked Iview and it is there, so looking forward to seeing it tonight, though at a more suitable time than 9-30, I think I would’ve just gone asleep at that time of night… we found everyone so friendly in USA when we travelled around in 1991,

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Watched “bikes of wrath” last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. What an adventure they had and the people they met were such down to earth characters. The sound and text being a bit hard to read was a problem for Jack, but fortunately I could keep pausing it and filling him in on the dialogues. Do you use Iview?


      3. Pleased you enjoyed, Pauline. Yes, it was the people they met along the way who made it. Wonderful characters. Agreed that the sound was a bit mumbled, though the Americans reading excerpts from the book were fine. I have used Iview but would rather watch DVDs.
        A lovely morning in the garden 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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