Capitalism was chosen as the best economic system when the founding fathers were trying to determine the future of America. A capitalist is someone who owns a production system and who gains money through misusing the effort of workers. Through capitalist economic relations, socialistic ideas are broken down to bias earnings of an individual. Through creating such divisions as the upper, middle, and lower class, the theory of Marxism analyzes what ways capitalism can be used against the people. In the Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck confronts this ideal and reveals what he believes regarding this subject. The Marxist theory of criticism examines the economic and governmental system that Steinbeck uses throughout the novel and reveals that Steinbeck does indeed believe that capitalism is naturally flawed.
Steinbeck starts his grand confrontation with capitalism, by creating the feeling that there are two classes with a third stuck somewhere between. In the start of the novel, Tom Joad wants to hitch a ride with a driver who has a “No Riders” sticker on the truck. Tom make the driver become tied and twisted in his emotions and moral feelings when saying, “sometimes a guy’ll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker…the driver considered the parts of this answer. If he refused now, not only was he not a good guy, but he was forced to carry a sticker, was not allowed to have company” (7). The driver is forced to believe that in order to be a “good guy,” he must put aside pride and help out a fellow man. Tom tries to make the driver realize that a man does not need to work for “some rich bastard” to be a decent person. It is also interesting to note that Steinbeck sees that “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
He shows that those who have higher authority tend to take advantage of others for their own selfish desires. One character of the intercalary chapters notes that the greed of the upper class dominates society and says, “You go steal a tire and you’re a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call it business” (81). Using “he” can come to represent the strong business owners because its shows the marketing techniques used then. Businessmen would try to take everything away from those who were just trying to make ends meet. By saying that “he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire,” means that they only take for their pleasure and their corrupted desires. This motif of the separation of the current society into many classes based on greed shows how deeply ingrained it is and then shows how deeply it affects everyone.
Steinbeck delegates blame of the complete and utter misfortunate of the lower class onto the upper class. While looking for a job, Uncle John and Pa start speaking to a group of men about work, and the men respond by saying, “You can’t feed your fam’ly on just twenty cents and hour, but you’ll take anything. They jes’ auction off a job…pretty soon they’re gonna make us pay to work” (352). The upper class promises the other fortune, food, and other physiological needs for their families and through this completely and utterly dictates every single move of the lower class by dominating their basic needs that must, absolutely must be met. He then projects a specific quality and image to represent the upper class.
“The Bank-or the Company-needs–wants–insists–must have–as thought the Bank or the Company were a monster…they were men and slaves, while the banks and machines were masters all the same time. Some of the owner men were a little proud to be slaves to suck cold and powerful masters” (32). The reason the banks and companies are symbolized as monsters is because they consume profits and interest on money. If no provisions are given to this monster, this master, then its “slaves” would not be taken care of either, so it feeds from the weak. This is just another way in which those with the power can dominate the lower class through the basic needs that everyone has. It is through many other instances that follow the same pattern as the others that Steinbeck shows how the upper class completely dominates all aspects of society and the living of everyone else.
From every corner of the novel drops the contempt that Steinbeck has for those who completely disregard the needs of others in order to profit. To this end, Steinbeck uses the camps to show how he believes that society should currently be operating. In Weedpatch, the Joads gathered at camp with everyone else and noticed something different about the atmosphere. “There grew up a government in the worlds a Man who was wise found that his wisdom was needed in every camp; a man who was a fool could not change his folly with this world” (197).
This scene showed how the families united as one under their own governing. It showed that each person was equal to the next, falling away from this class defined society. Steinbeck headed towards socialism with this quote, opposing capitalism and its errors labeling a person and their family. By uniting, it seemed as though more work was able to get done and more people enjoyed a feeling of freedom. Families were able to get away from a higher authority and be able to work and think for themselves. Finally, an answer is presented to the question and problems, which Steinbeck had been building up, through the simple connection of the many ideas that flowed through this novel.
Through the suffering and misery that is faced by the farmers, Steinbeck sets the concept of separation of class based on luck and circumstance; the greed of those in command then does not allow for any change of any type to occur at all. The power that lies in the hand of the upper class has been abused and used to abuse those that it was meant to help. The greed that prevails throughout all instances of merchant dealings throughout this novel indicate that this is the basis and the only true representative of the upper class; through the struggles of the other people, Steinbeck believes that there is much more to life than simple materialism.
In Weedpatch, he shows that once people can shed pettiness and greed that capitalism fosters, they are able to connect and create something much better. From the first event of the novel to the last, Steinbeck focuses on showing the flaws of capitalism and providing a better solution to the problem that plagues the majority of the nation. Socialism will work where capitalism will not, one is based off of the unanimity whereas the other focuses on the few individuals that are able to exploit their greed and disregard for civilization to the extreme.