Charlotte Allen is so right, although it’s still kind of nice to look back on the days when white people could be victim/heroes:
…when Tom gives his famous “I’ll be ever’where” speech, I always want to call his parole officer. (…)
Furthermore, Steinbeck got the Okies historically wrong, probably because he himself hailed from an upper-middle-class family in Salinas and his experience with Okies consisted of interviewing a few of them for some newspaper articles. (…)
Furthermore — and here the last laugh is on Steinbeck — the Okies turned out to be the exact opposite of progressive collectivists, becoming the backbone of California’s political and social conservatism. Instead of fomenting a workers revolution, they led the Reagan Revolution. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck relentlessly mocks the Okies’ Pentecostal Christianity. In fact, their Pentecostal and Baptist churches were a source of moral cohesion. Gregory counted more churches in Bakersfield, where Okie culture influenced everything from spirituality to music, than in San Francisco. To this day, the Okie culture-saturated San Joaquin Valley remains California’s only red-state region.
A couple of weeks ago, someone brought an original print of Dorthea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” to the Antiques Roadshow. The appraiser happened to mention that the subject of the famous photo later took issue with the backstory Lange was spreading about her. Arnie and I exchanged knowing glances.
Sure enough, here is Lange’s story:
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.
“There’s no way we sold our tires, because we didn’t have any to sell. The only ones we had were on the Hudson and we drove off in them. I don’t believe Dorothea Lange was lying, I just think she had one story mixed up with another. Or she was borrowing to fill in what she didn’t have.”
“I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”