The Indictment of the United States in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath Essay
The Indictment of the United States in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath is a novel written by John Steinbeck. In the bulk of modern literature, it is consider a masterful epic unmatched in the realm of the written word. The novel centers around a family of workers who are immigrants — The Joads. When the novel takes place they are in California attempting to survive the scarce conditions of the depression. Steinbeck monitors and recounts the ups and downs of the family and their experiences in United States.
The Grapes of Wrath is an indictment of the United States because much of the plot is Steinbeck’s commentary on the rampant capitalism which literary sucked the land and the people dry during the 1930s. The story is based on real life excerpts of John Steinbeck’s field research. The real life conflict was created by greedy business men, and lending institutions which bought up land and employed workers to farm. The majority of these workers were lower class immigrant families that were paid so little that their struggles have often been paralleled to that of slavery which plagued the United States in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The old adage was particularly relevant when examining this novel, as the rich get richer, the poor end up dead — worked to death. Steinbeck is not casual in his assault of capitalism and it not fearful to express his disgust for the supposed American dream. He has a clear political viewpoint and asserts:”… the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds throughout all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.
” (333). A major theme developed by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath is his believe that the survive of the lower class is based on their dedication to family. His approach is a delicate mixture of Marxism and Socialism, both of which promote cooperative living. In the context of the time, Steinbeck’s beliefs were not just controversial but also dangerous. The United States went through a two periods in which the government hunted after individuals they considered unamerican, the 1920s and the 1950s. This novel was written in the the 1930s.
However, Steinbeck intricately weaves a tale of family strife, struggle, and survival, in The Grapes of Wrath, which has become a beloved and honored classic since its publication. Steinbeck’s depiction of the devastating conditions during the 1930s is historically accurate. In particular, Steinbeck articulately describes what a Dust Bowl actually is and how it was created. He explains that the great plains experienced the greatest droughts ever during the great depression. The Dust Bowl was created due to lack of rain and also the over use of the land.
Once pieces of land are over farmed they lose their nutrients and crops will not grow. These areas, once plush with grass and trees became “virtual deserts. ” It was this drought which forced families, hungry and tired, to see out new hope in the west. The west promised folks clean and cheap living, and with access to regular work. Steinbeck describes the Dust Bowl in the following way, “The wind increased, steady, unbroken gusts.
The dusts from the roads fluffed up and spread out and fell on the weeds besides the fields . . .the sky was darkened by the mixing dust, and the wind felt over the earth, loosened the dust, and carried it away. ” For the people living in these devastated lands, this was a very accurate account as to what the “weather” was like for weeks and months. 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.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 19 April 2017
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