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Grapes of Wrath

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The Grapes of Wrath a well-known classic by John Steinbeck was published in 1939, and before it was published, migrant workers were living in very harsh conditions in several parts of the United States. The Grapes of Wrath is about an Oklahoma Dust Bowl family, the Joads, who suffer various hardships while migrating to California. The Dust Bowl was a period of time in the 1930s where harsh droughts led to severe dust storms which ruined million acres of prairie land in America. This story tells us the plight of all those migrants during the Great Depression through the perspective of the Joad family. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck uses intercalary chapters to provide background for the various themes of the novel, as well as to set the tone. Steinbeck’s previous book had bought him much success and Steinbeck did not want his success to weaken his commitment to the intellectual goals of his writing. So later, he embarked upon a trip from Oklahoma to California with a group of migrant workers. He worked and lived alongside them in a work camp in California. His experience was the inspiration for this novel.
The story begins just after Tom Joad is released on parole from McAlester prison for homicide. On his journey to his home in Oklahoma, he meets former preacher Jim Casy whom he remembers from his childhood and the two travel together. He finds out his family has been evacuated from their land and are leaving for California. Tom and Casy join them. Going west on Route 66, the Joad family discovers that the road is saturated with other families making the same journey, fascinated by the same promise. In makeshift camps, they hear many stories from others, some coming back from California, and are forced to confront the possibility that their prospects may not be what they hoped. As their destination gets closer the family starts to splits. Upon arrival, they find little hope of making a decent wage, as there is an oversupply of labor and a lack of rights. A gleam of hope is presented at Weedpatch Camp, one of the clean, utility-supplied camps that has been established to help the migrants, but there is not enough money and space to care for all of the needy. In response to the exploitation of laborers, there are people who attempt for the workers to join unions, including Casy, who had gone to jail after taking the blame for attacking a rogue deputy. The remaining Joads work as strikebreakers on a peach orchard where Casy is involved in a strike that eventually turns violent. Tom Joad witnesses the killing of Casy and kills the attacker, becoming an escapee. The family later leaves the orchard for a cotton farm. Tom is in risk of being caught so he bids farewell to his mother, promising that no matter where he runs, he will be a tireless advocate for the oppressed. Ma Joad remains unfaltering and forces the family through the hardships. When the rains arrive, the Joads' dwelling is flooded, and they move to higher ground with nothing to lose.
It may seem that all the cause of woe in the story was caused by the bad weather, but that was not Steinbeck’s point. He wanted to show how the migrants’ sufferings were due to human beings, beings of a higher class. Social, economic, and historical circumstances have always divided people into classes which basically separate people into poor and rich. In this case it was the landowners and tenants. The landowners created a system in which the migrants were treated like animals, shuffled from one filthy roadside camp to the next, denied livable wages, and forced to turn against their own people simply to survive. The novel draws a simple line through the population. A line that separates the privileged from the poor, a line which in the end is source of all evil.

The Joad family like many others was struggling to survive but they always had a hope and willingness to live on. The family was badly mistreated and lost several family members, Ma Joad struggled to keep the family together, to work with each other in order to continue. Steinbeck also shows us how working together, humanitarianism can make a family or a group of people, survive a very harsh and unfair circumstances. At every turn, Steinbeck seems determined on showing their dignity and honor. Nowhere is this more evident than at the end of the novel. The Joads suffered incomparable losses: Noah, Connie, and Tom have left the family; Rose of Sharon gives birth to a stillborn baby; the family possesses neither food nor promise of work. Yet the family manages to rise above hardship to perform an act of unsurpassed kindness and generosity for a starving man, showing that the Joads have not lost their sense of the value of human life.

The novel also demonstrates the individual’s instinct to organize communities within the groups of migrants in roadside camps. “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 was one dream.” The people cooperate because it is beneficial to their welfare in order to survive. As they gradually undergo suffering, they learn to transcend their own pain and individual needs. At the end, all of them are able to recognize the nature and needs of others. The Joads are also on an inward journey. For them, suffering and homelessness become the means for spiritual growth and a new consciousness. At the end, Tom has decided to become a leader in the militant organizing of the migrants. Ma accepts her commitments to people other than her family. Rose of Sharon loses her baby but comes to understand the plight of the starving man to whom she blissfully gives life as if he were her child. Casy, who has been jailed, reappears as a strike leader and union organizer, having discovered that he must work to translate his understanding of the holiness of life into social action. Steinbeck makes clear that this potential for transcendental consciousness is what makes human beings different from other creatures in nature.

Steinbeck develops expansively the theme of social commitment. Both Casy and Tom made inspiring sacrifices. When Jim Casy surrenders to the deputies in place of Tom, Jim is acting on his commitment to love all people. He later becomes a labor organizer and dies in his efforts. In Tom, the development of commitment is even more striking. At the beginning of the novel, Tom is determined to avoid involvement with people. After his experiences on the journey and through his friendship with Casy, Tom becomes committed to social justice. His commitment extends to a spiritual empathy with the people and he later dedicates his life to fighting for the oppressed and inferior ones.
The Grapes of Wrath is significant to U.S. history because it was very controversial, but it gives a whole description of the damage that occurred during the Great Depression to the whole world. It was controversial because it demonstrated all the injustices and mistreatments of the workers and the harsh conditions when working. It was debated in the popular press when it was first published. It is also significant because it was defended in several occasions by President and Eleanor Roosevelt for its power, integrity, and accuracy. The Grapes of Wrath not only tells the story of a Dust Bowl family who suffered many injustices and mistreatments, but it also tells the story of how American societies mistreated many migrant workers and how they let them work in very harsh conditions.

Work Cited: http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=44840 http://www.bookrags.com/notes/gow/BIO.html) http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/grapesofwrath/themes.html http://www.bookrags.com/essay-2005/11/18/9035/8382
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Grapes of Wrath

Ruchika Gupta 5210093 Mrs. Donahue English A 19/08/2012

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