There are two general groups of people at conflict in the novel — the rich bosses and the labor force. Steinbeck writes heart wrenching characters of the lower class which are just barely surviving. These workers are victimized by the greedy upper classes, their bodies treated like commodities. The audience can feel nothing but empathy for these immigrant workers who toil the land “drawing figures in the dust with bare toes,” (10), while the men that own the land “[sit] in their cars to talk out of the window,” (43), making money on the backs of the poor folk.
Steinbeck explains that these capitalists have never done a day of hard work in their life and their only motive in using “big earth augers into the ground for soil tests” (43) is to squeeze more money from the land they own. Steinbeck is also quick to point out that farmers and these ‘land owners’ are different. While landowners corrupt the land leaving it near death with their “iron penes… [and] orgasms set by gears… [rape] methodically, [rape] without passion.
” (50). Whereas the farmer works with the land keeping it healthy. He explains “A bank isn’t like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either.
That’s the monster. ” (46). Steinbeck does offer an alternate choice to this capitalistic nightmare which is represented by the Weedpatch Camp. This a town in which “folks… elect their own cops” (400), and everyone who lives and works in the town has say about the choices are made. It is within Weedpatch, that all people including immigrant are treated fairly and with kindness. Steinbeck asserts that it is socialism that ensures that there is respect, and equality between all its citizens. It is in Weedpatch that Joads family ends up and while their struggle is not over, at least their victimization is.
Steinbeck fully explores the cruel experiences that many migrant workers had to face in the 1930s and continue to face today. Steinbeck accurately and historically portrays the perils which many family has to overcome in the newly capitalistic culture in the United States. It would hard to find anyone who could not sympathize with the farm workers during the depression. Steinbeck so intimately describes their situation that the audience finds himself hoping that the Joads and families like the Joads survive to find happiness and comfort.
Steinbeck also does not overreach with his criticism of big business. The concerns of the 1930s are still the concerns today. Big businesses believe they have the right to anything they can buy up or sell, including the earth and the people inhabitating it. The novel created for me a real sense of humanistic history. The great depression is often read from a purely factual point of view with data and numbers. However, from the cold, hard facts Steinbeck creates warmth and a sense of unity by exploring the common human experience of struggle displayed in the Joads’ endeavors.
I don’t know that I fully understood the horrible conditions that migrant families live under during the great depression. I think that Steinbeck’s novel is also still relevant in today’s modern society. The issue of immigration is at the forefront of legislation and public debate. The United States still takes advantage of poverty classes families who are not able to get legal working papers, allowing them to work “under the table” for less than minimum wage. He gives his audience an explicit view of exactly what life was like in the Dust Bowl.
He carefully weaves a tale of emotional struggle, family bonding, and historical facts. He is careful not to sugar coat the topic and his real goal was to bring to light the long suffering and often forgotten migrant worker which America has used to build and maintain farms throughout the country. I thought it was appropriate that Steinbeck did not write a happy ending for the Joads. They were unable to achieve the supposed American dream that so many people in the United States are promised but never actually have. Steinbeck’s authorship is stunning and undeniable accurate.
He utilizes several literary devices including vivid images, specific dialect, and historic fact. With the use of personification he brings the depression ear United States to life. His depictions of nature, character personalities, and the Joads’ adventure are heroic recounted to the reader. I believe that the Grapes of Wrath is a timeless piece of literature which is sincere and authentic. The Grapes of Wrath is the perfect piece of historic fiction which should accompany any course of study of the Great Depression in the United States.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath, 1939. New York: Viking, 1989.