Cimarron Sings Praises of Frontier Women

In her foreword, Edna Ferber says that only the “fantastic and improbable” events related in Cimarron are true. Perhaps that historical sense is what propelled Cimarron to the top of the charts in 1930.

The novel is about Sabra Cravat. Her husband, a lawyer, newspaperman, and adventurer, brings her and their young son, Cimarron, west to Oklahoma just after the 1889 run that opened the land to settlers.

Sabra soon learns her flambuoyant husband is already well-known for his oratory and his shooting. Yancey champions the Indian’s plight and teaches Cim to be pro-Indian, too.

Yancey periodically disappears for days, weeks, then years at a time.

Sabra keeps the newspaper going, makes it prosper, crusades for morality, education, and culture. Eventually she becomes US Senator.

When oil is found in Oklahoma, Yancey — always one to be where the action is — comes home again in time to die as dramatically as he lived.

Ferber makes the point that men went west for adventure. Frontier women were “the real hewers of wood and drawers of water,”  the ones who made life possible.

The plot and characters of Cimarron are forgettable, but they are just interesting enough to make the history turn-of-the-century Oklahoma easy reading.

Cimarron
By Edna Ferber
Doubleday, Doran 1930
388 pages
#1 on 1930 bestseller list
My grade: B

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Grapes of Wrath Lays Sentiment on Thick

The Grapes of Wrath is a novel told from a soapbox.

Unable to keep up payments on their miserable Oklahoma farm, the Joads are forced to leave the land. Lured by handbills promising jobs, they pack 12 family members, an ex-preacher and a dog into a Hudson and set out for California.

Only eight of the Joad clan make it.

California turns out not to be the promised land. As thousands compete for harvesting jobs, wages drop. Men see their children starving. The Joads are in a bad way, but not so poor that they won’t share what little they have.

Substitute Hispanics for Oakies and much of The Grapes of Wrath will sound contemporary. The story remains gripping today because the search for a better life is timeless.

John Steinbeck alternates a chapter about the Joads with a chapter of his own take on history. He does it seamlessly, but sentimentally. The final scene of Rosasharn giving her milk to the starving man is Hollywood at its worst.

But by making the Joads the poster family for the working poor, Steinbeck trivializes the very conditions he’s trying to condemn. The working poor—and we poor readers—deserve more respect.

The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
Viking, 1939
619  pages
1939 #1, 1940 #8
My grade: A-

© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni