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Great Depression icon meets the great recession

A modern visit to the nonfictional Sallisaw, Okla. – home of the fictional ‘Grapes of Wrath’ Joads

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Here by the border with Arkansas is where the Great Depression hit the Joad family – fabled farming icons of the Dust Bowl – head on.

In John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” a tractor in the employ of a faceless “company¨ knocks the Joads’ house off its foundation once the sharecroppers abandon it and the fields they can no longer afford to work.

The Joads were fictional, a composite of fact and fancy. But Sallisaw is real, the seat of Sequoyah County in southeastern Oklahoma. Largely a bedroom community for the nearby city of Fort Smith, Ark., Sallisaw is a town of 8,000 off of Interstate 40 with a junior college, a German-owned, state-of-the-art chicken breeding plant, and a Cherokee casino.

It has endured and prospered since the Depression. Yet seven decades after the release of Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-winning book and subsequent movie with Henry Fonda as prodigal son Tom Joad, the town carries the burden of stereotype.

The “Grapes of Wrath” is the nation’s touchstone for the hardships of the Great Depression, when 400,000 Americans – mostly “Okies” along with others from Arkansas and West Texas – packed it up for points west, primarily California.

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