The novel cure: Literary prescriptions for those struggling to keep New Year's resolutions


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: New Year's resolution, struggling to keep

Cure: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Anyone can make a New Year's resolution. But keeping it is a whole other story. Some would say that it comes down to willpower; but willpower by itself may not be enough. Those who have failed to keep their resolutions in the past should begin with a less noble trait: that of sheer bloody-mindedness, and attempt to develop a more positive, moral edge to it later on. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's elegy to the exodus of migrant workers from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of 1930s America, has excellent examples of both.

First up is Muley Graves. After years of drought and devastated harvests, the tenant farmers have been ordered to leave the land to make way for mechanisation, the Joad and Graves families among them. Newly released from gaol, Tom Joad arrives home to find his family house "smashed up" and deserted – all except for an angry Muley, who has sent his own family ahead to California, promising to follow soon. In fact, Muley has no intention of leaving. "There ain't nobody can run a guy name of Graves outa this country," he says to Tom.

Next there's Grampa Joad who, at the last minute, refuses to go too. Tom and his mother have to get him drunk on cough syrup so they can swing him on to the truck.

The journey that follows – filled with hardship and tragedy – causes Pa to crumble, but others – Tom and his Ma in particular – to grow in spirit.

Those who have suffered in life may well have the inner resources to keep their New Year's resolutions intact. But if your life's been easy and you tend to be soft on yourself, call upon your inner stubbornness like those intractable Joads. Tell your resolution to your nearest and dearest – then dig in. Something new and wonderful may yet emerge that will nourish not only yourself but others too.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);