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Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Research Paper Example

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John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath is, on the surface, a story about a poor family harshly affected by the Great Depression and the Dustbowls that struck Oklahoma farmers. Not looking for much more than a place to call home and the dignity of work, the Joad family heads off for California where they believe they will be able to start a new life for themselves. …
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Download file to see previous pages Several members of the family are lost, either to death or to despair, as they struggle for and against union formation and the oppressive culture they find in California. The book ends with little hope for a better future and much of the family lost. There is a much deeper meaning to the story, though, as Steinbeck harshly criticizes American culture during the dustbowl years of the 1930s. Within this novel, Steinbeck argues that American society is driven by the individualistic society that had developed, characterized by the capitalistic ‘monster’ of economic profit, its extreme focus on the needs and desires of the individual much to the detriment of all but the very rich. Even when this highly individualistic environment works to one's benefit, Steinbeck argues that those who profited actually lost something invaluable and irreplaceable in the process.
While it is frequently believed that the problems faced by the individual farmers of the 1930s were caused primarily by natural causes such as the droughts and subsequent dust storms which stripped the land of nutrients, Steinbeck and others like him were attempting to prove that nature was only a small portion of a larger problem that had been growing for years. “The drought of the mid-thirties – the worst in a century – only worsened conditions for the working people of the region, an area where unemployment was higher than the already soaring national average” (Gregory, 1989, p. 14). Rather than just the droughts, Steinbeck suggests through his story that the driving force of the economic collapse, and the problems faced by the Joad family in the story, are the result of America's individualistic system itself. This system is represented within his book by the banks, the landowners and several characters' incessant need for profit at any cost to others. It is this attitude and climate that Steinbeck means when he refers to the ‘monster’. To understand how this mechanism works, it is necessary to examine how the system affected Tom Joad and his family, such as the impact and purpose of the corporate handbills scattered throughout the dry country, how the dried up and stripped land itself became a driving force, and how these circumstances came together to contribute to the further exploitation of the migrant worker. Along the way, Steinbeck makes some allusions as to how to beat the system. Steinbeck first describes the monster in chapter five, revealing its strong relationship and dependency on the capitalistic system. In this chapter, Steinbeck presents a hypothetical dialogue taking place between a starving tenant on the verge of losing his land and the wealthy landowner who is evicting him. In this exchange, Steinbeck highlights the changing values of the country from one of collective solidarity to one of extreme individualism as society free falls into pure capitalism. The tenant farmers argue, “It’s our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours. That’s what makes it ours – being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not paper with numbers on it.” (Steinbeck, 1961, p. 33). Ignoring the farmers as easily as they once ignored the Native Americans, the owners respond (truthfully) that it isn’t even the owners' decisions whether or not to evict their tenants since the banks are now controlling the owners' welfare. The banks, which are not run by men but are themselves controlled by bigger companies off in the east that “has to have profits all the time … ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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Good paper! Used it to complete an assignment for a literature course. It was easy as ABC, for the first time in my life.

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