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Grapes Of Wrath

Grapes Of Wrath John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath is one of the most influential books in American History, and is considered to be his best work by many. It tells the story of one family’s hardship during the Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. The Joads were a hard-working family with a strong sense of togetherness and morals; they farmed their land and went about their business without bothering anyone. When the big drought came it forced them to sell the land they had lived on since before anyone can remember. Their oldest son, Tom, has been in jail the past four years and returns to find his childhood home abandoned.

He learns his family has moved in with his uncle John and decides to travel a short distance to see them. He arrives only to learn they are packing up their belongings and moving to California, someplace where there is a promise of work and food. This sets the Joad family off on a long and arduous journey with one goal: to survive. In this novel Steinbeck set forth with the intention of raising awareness to the general public of the difficulties and injustices these migrants faced during this period in time. It exposed the methods of the California farmer to use the migrants in order to lower their costs and make their profit margin higher.

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How they starved and cheated the poor, working man, in order to keep him desperate for food and too weak to protest. Above all, it showed everyone that these “damn Okies” were all simply men, women and children, no different from anyone else, just poorer. They were human beings with feelings and not the uncivilized beasts they were portrayed as at the time. Steinbeck portrays the “Okies” in a way no one before him had, and also managed to keep their story true to life. He did this by mainly using dialect, and wrote the “Okie” dialect just as it was spoken, breaking the lines of proper grammar and spelling.

If he was concerned with such things it would have ruined the personality of the characters. His unique writing style to capture the atmosphere of these people and the era is evident in this excerpt from his book: Barror-2 “Duck,” said Muley. The bar of cold white light swung over their heads and crisscrossed the field. The hiding men could not see any movement, but they heard a car door slam and they heard voices. “Scairt to get in the light,” Muley whispered.

“Once-twice I’ve took a shot at the headlights. That keeps Willy careful. He got somebody with ‘im tonight.” They heard footsteps on wood, and then from inside the house they saw the glow of a flashlight. “Shall I shoot through the house?” Muley whispered. “They couldn’t see where it come from. Give ’em sompin to think about.” (80) The Grapes of Wrath is two intertwined stories.

One of the Joad family and their personal struggles, and the other of the greater effect of the Dust Bowl and depression on the massive amounts of people like the Joads. He trades off each chapter, one chapter telling the story of the Joads and the next talking about the migrants. He uses the Joads to bring the story home to the reader, defeating the myth about the Okies. That myth being, as put by a service station attendant, “They ain’t human.” (301) Throughout the novel Steinbeck goes to prove that the Joads are perhaps the most humane people out there. As the story progresses the Joads progress as well, from only being concerned with their own personal welfare and living to being aware of injustice towards everyone like them.

This is accompanied by the disintegration of the smaller family unit, which is replaced by the larger world family of the migrant people. The character that shows this change most dramatically is Tom Joad. When he first is released from prison his only concern is going home, returning to his old lifestyle, catching up on lost time and having some fun. As he learns about the journey west his first priority becomes his family, and he puts them and their welfare before everything else. Finally at the end of the book he decides to take it upon himself to be a voice for all of the “Okies” and fight against the unfairness they all faced on a daily basis. This change is best put by Ma at the end of the book when she says to Mrs. Wainwright, “Use’ ta be the fambly that was fust. It ain’t so now. It’s anybody.

Worse off we get, the more we got to do.” (606) Barror-3 Throughout the novel, the acts of kindness by poor people are contrasted to the greed and meanness of the rich. One of the ironies of the book was that, as Ma Joad said, If your in trouble or hurt or need — go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help — the only ones. (335) The irony is that if you need something you have to go to the people who have nothing. The first example of this is at the truck station in Chapter 15 when the restaurant owner and waitress give the family bread at a discounted rate, and candy two for a penny when it is actually nickel candy. The truck drivers then leave large tips to the waitress. Neither the truck driver nor the restaurant owner and waitress are very rich but they are generous anyway.

In Chapter seventeen Tom and Al receive car parts from a worker at a run down auto shop at a great discount. Ma Joad is also an example of this. The Joads are poor and yet they give what little they have to the children who need it. In contrast the business class people are shown as ruthless bloodthirsty demons. All they care about is their own personal wealth and to them the poor are simply walking signs reading “take what little money I have, I am poor and desperate”.

Chapter seven shows how the car dealers rip the people off by selling them pieces of junk for high prices. They use cheep tricks such as pouring sawdust into the gears or transmission to cut down the noise of the car and hide problems. They take advantage of the tenant farmers ignorance of cars and interest rates to make a profit. This pattern is repeated many times throughout the book. Chapter nine shows junk dealers taking advantage of the fact that they knew the farmers had to sell all of their possessions and could pay them dirt-cheap prices for them. They watch the pain and despair in the farmer’s faces as they try to argue for a higher price with a grin, knowing they will take whatever is offered.

They simply can’t afford not to, they must sell their things, and they can’t take them west and desperately need the money. “Well, take it-all junk-and give me five dollars. You’re not buying only junk, you’re buying junked lives. And more- you’ll see- you’re buying bitterness. Buyin …


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