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Lyle Boren and The Grapes of Wrath (1909-1992)

Powerful and purportedly authentic, John Steinbeck’s renowned novel of Depression-era Oklahoma Dust Bowl victims, The Grapes of Wrath, has been enshrined by the American academic establishment in both its literary and historical canons. Enshrined with it has been a national image of Oklahomans as a backward, uneducated people, in need of deliverance from a heartless capitalistic society by a wiser, beneficent, distant government—apparently, in Steinbeck’s mind, a socialistic one.


Usually ignored by that same class of academicians have been the eloquent defenders of Oklahoma, where Steinbeck had never been when he wrote the book, who have refuted Steinbeck’s portrayal of the state, its people, its country, and their predominant philosophies, often with power and conviction. Legendary historian Angie Debo, for instance, denounced the book as “rooted in nowhere.”


Foremost in their ranks stood Congressman Lyle Boren of Seminole, the youngest (25 years old) person ever elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. He also fathered future Oklahoma Governor, Senator, and University of Oklahoma President David Boren. The following is an excerpt from the elder Boren’s memorable House speech on January 10, 1940.

 

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues, considerable has been said in the cloakrooms, in the press, and in various reviews about a book entitled The Grapes of Wrath. I cannot find it possible to let this dirty, lying, filthy manuscript go heralded before the public without a word of challenge or protest.