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The Grapes of Wrath

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Number 10 on the list of top 100 novels John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath is number 10 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 Top Novels of the 20th Century.  After a couple of years trying to convince my students of the virtues of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (#6 on the list), I gave up and substituted the more accessible, single-third-person narrative, not-stream-of-consciousness Steinbeck novel.  In the process of teaching it, my admiration for the novel grew.  But what does "Grapes of Wrath" mean?


The title was suggested by Carol SteinbeckIt is widely reported that the title was suggested by Faulkner's first wife, Carol Henning Steinbeck. The expression “Grapes of Wrath” comes from the Bible: Revelation 14:19–20 (New Testament) and Isaiah 63 (Old Testament). The expression was re-used in the lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” written during the American Civil War.
"Wrath" means anger  In the simplest of terms, "grap…

How Many Americans Think Planet Earth Is 6000 Years Old?

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A Short History of the WorldMost people these days think of H.G. Wells as a science-fiction writer, in fact as one of the pillars of the genre together with Jules Verne, but his best selling, most popular work in his lifetime was A Short History of the World which he wrote in 1922.  In the opening paragraph of this brilliant and monumental work, Wells writes:

A couple of hundred years ago men possessed the history of little more than the last three thousand years.  What happened before that time was a matter of legend and speculation.  Over a large part of the civilized world it was believed and taught that the world had been created suddenly in 4004 B.C though authorities differed as to whether this had occurred in the spring or the autumn of that year.  This fantastically precise misconception was based  upon a too literal interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, and upon rather arbitrary theological assumptions connected therewith.  Such ideas have long since been abandoned by religious …

Do No Harm Part III: Don’t Joke about the Bible

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Do Not presumeI hope I have made it clear that I have not lived up to my own recommendation that teachers should avoid irony.The best I have been able to do, and I suspect this will be true for most teachers, is to be careful and to be wary of the pitfalls of irony.In recent years I saw a dramatic increase in the multicultural mix in my classes:students from Africa, the Caribbean, the former Yugoslavia, Iran, China, Japan and various Arab countries.Over the years, I had learned from lecturing on feminism and what used to be called “women’s liberation” not to presume to know what individual women want or, worse still, should want.Even though, I was supposed to be the expert on “culture” and “intercultural communication,” I think I knew enough not to presume that I understood my students' lives, and to recognize that I had a lot to learn from them.In general, I was in awe of their openness and resilience.H.G. Wells’ short story “The Country of the Blind” provided a perfect framework…