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  • TITLE: Tobacco Road
  • AUTHOR: Erskine Caldwell
  • PUBLICATION YEAR: 1932
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"There was a mean trick played on us somewhere. God put us in the bodies of animals and tried to make us act like people."

--Griselda, from God's Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell, c.1933

 

 

--American Blues Theater Co. Cast from 2010 performance in Chicago. Photo by Stage Channel and/or Marty Higginbotham.

 

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine whose son works as a prison guard. She was giving me some sidebars most people don't get a chance to chew on. A convict put human shit in his mouth, molar-ground it to mush, then spit it in an unsuspecting guard's face.

After reading this book, I feel like that guard.

Tobacco Road qualifies as one of the most sickest, ugliest, depressing books I've ever read. And I've read some doozies. Some might consider it a literary feat, but I think this is pornography without the erection.

Go to goodreads.com if you want to rub up an obscenely-tarnished plot. I am astonished this book was published so long ago in a much more conservative society. In 1932 you couldn't even buy a copy of Ulysses (1922) to read in this country, let alone Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928)!

I know, I know: context of the times, naturalistic masterpiece, unflinching as opposed to Steinbeck's Joad family, courageous.

Bullshit. This is overwrought melodrama by anyone's standards, even bordering on Black Comedy, which seriously underscores the then-bleated themes of social injustice. In fact, the play produced a year later--18th running longest play on Broadway to date--was so popular because of a cultural, subtextual thread of eugenics that was being touted at the time--and by Caldwell himself--as sound, possible solutions to some of humankind's, ah, "problem people." John Ford's cinematic version of 1941 made a hairball slapstick embarrassment of its characters' plight.

But I guess I'll hafta read God's Little Acre now, huh?

Addendum: Okay, I was a little harsh after finishing this read. But times have changed. We're global now, so this level of poverty & ignorance is seen as sad, but a hashed-over story. It does not have the impact it did back then, going into the Dust Bowl/Depression of the 1930s. I wouldn't be surprised to know that this book influenced some of FDR's quasi-socialist policies to break the Depression's hold. Besides, this is America, right? Well, right but wrong on that account, too. More like, This Is Humanity, Somewhere Now. 10/17/2015

 

Dorthea Lange, c.1936. A photo of real people.

 

 

text only © copyright 06/19/2015 by Larry Crawford

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