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An Illusory Birthright: The Loss of Home and Identity in The Grapes of Wrath - Research Paper Example

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There is a tragic poignancy to the notion of people losing their homes. It is a spiritual amputation in which rootlessness happens overnight and the soul is robbed of something elemental and irreplaceable. …
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An Illusory Birthright: The Loss of Home and Identity in The Grapes of Wrath
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Download file to see previous pages Social displacement has for the better part of a century been a matter for history books and literature but in recent years it has intruded on the conscience of a new generation of Americans, for whom foreclosures and natural disasters are near-daily occurrences. Economic hardship, bank foreclosure and the destructive power of the natural world cast into sharp relief the themes of hardship and survival in John Steinbeck’s opus The Grapes of Wrath. But it is the love of the earth and the age-old human predisposition to identify self with place that imbues Steinbeck’s epic with such a powerfully relatable and timeless message. When the bank forces the Joads off their land, it aims a blow at elemental feelings of human security and well-being.
For the Joad family and other tenant farmers who live at the mercy of the all-powerful bank, the loss of homestead is tantamount to the death of a family member. The
human cost has as much to do with the heart and soul as it does with temporal concerns over
basic physical resources like food and income. The Dust Bowl farmers find to their dismay that the bank, which holds the deed to their lands, harbors no sentiment for any historical or emotional connection they may have to their homes. Many of those who work for the bank hate what they are compelled to do but are powerless to help. The farmers are profoundly, pathetically helpless to defend themselves despite the moral legitimacy of their claim. “The tenants cried, Grampa killed Indians, Pa killed snakes for the land. Maybe we can kill banks – they’re worse than Indians and snakes. Maybe we got to fight to keep our land like Pa and Grampa did” (Steinbeck, 245). The bank poses a threat like none they have ever faced, or even imagined, a “monster” which “isn’t men,” holding absolute power over them but bearing no responsibility to anyone other than its stockholders (Ibid). The devastation the farmers feel transcends even crops and cabins, hearth and herd. The homes which the bank will take are spiritual refuges, havens that give form to their humanity and dignity to their struggle. The promise that lies at the end of the journey they must endure becomes a psychological refuge, and reshapes their relationship to the countryside and to each other as they seek a new life in California. They draw nearer each other as their lives are turned upside down. “In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the Golden time in the West became one dream” (Steinbeck, 264). The epochal tides of migration that characterize the American experience have always Name 3 been triggered by the loss of something dear, whether it be land or religion or the depredations of an arbitrary authority determined to strip the helpless of the most fundamental human rights and belongings. The great Indian tribes that once lived and moved as they pleased were forced into a series of agonizing migrations. At stake was the sanctity of their ancient ties to the land, the preservation of which left them with no choice but to journey ever further in hopes of reestablishing a sense of home and belonging. Steinbeck’s Joad family does not symbolize the restlessness of the American spirit but the exploitation of vulnerable populations threatened with extinction. They ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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