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Meyers English 101 3 March 2003
The Grapes of Wrath
By: John Steinbeck
Throughout history, more than one great event has happened that captured the attention of onlookers, not only the onlookers of that time, but also onlookers that were yet to come. Textbooks captured these events, and they were preserved in the hearts of the people. However, some less recognized events that occurred throughout the times that were not brought to the attention of most. These depended on the exploits of the pioneers in writing to preserve these occurrences, so that the people of the future would remember. The Grapes of Wrath is such a book, in which a less known historic event that had a great impact on some people and was an important part of history was documented and preserved for the future to see. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck speaks of the ongoing tirade hovering over the never-ending cycle of unemployment, and the quest for stability, independence, and happiness. This book opens at the scene of the aftermath of a typical dust storm. It is apparent that these conditions are not by any means rare or unique, but rather common everyday scenes. The sand has settled, the male villagers are reviewing the damage, and their women and children sit quietly waiting for the men. The chapter is passive, and speaks of and to no one in particular, but rather to all people as a general whole. In the next chapter, the book begins a narrative of the Tom Joad, an ex-convict
Al-Qudsi 2 searching for his family after a four-year sentence. This narrative also takes place in Oklahoma. This alternating pattern between passive historical chapters that involve no direct action, and those of historical-fiction chapters, continues to alternate throughout the book, with the historical chapters extending in length from one to three chapters at a time, and the fictional chapters extending no longer than one chapter at a time. Steinbeck expressed the feelings of the different characters, the central theme, and the timeframe in such a way that the final effect is that of a complete circle. Although the story never really ends and the story appears capable of going on forever, the sense of fulfillment is always present in an unexplainable way. The novel consists of an account of the travels conducted by the Joad family, Tom Jr., Tom Senior, Rosasharn, Ruthie, Winfield, Connie, Granma, Granpa, Uncle John, and Ma; as well as their close friend Casy, an ex-reverend. The bank had bought most of the crops in Oklahoma and Texas, used advanced technology to farm, harvest, sow, and prepare the crops with little effort. Using technology, the banks quickly created commercial farms, colossal profits, no thoughts for living creatures and ruin into the lives of the citizens of the Oklahoma territory. The citizens can no longer meet the demands of their customers, and had to sell their farms, and find other means of living. The mood of the novel is set from the very beginning, the main characters’ esteem is non-existent, and they their stubbornness, reluctance, and incapability to see hope in moving from Oklahoma in order to seek a new start in California. Perhaps the most important part of the setting is the fact that they have no idea where they wish to go, but only know that they must leave. The whole book is set with a saddening mindset. Obstacles are placed for the Joad family across the path to their dreams.
Al-Qudsi 3 Another important factor that stands out in the book is the mixture of characters that presents itself in such an unambiguous way; every single one of them has a precise and unmovable role within the story. Each character also symbolizes a certain important aspect of the human nature. For example, Tom Jr. symbolizes the rebellious spirit found in oppressed beings, human or otherwise, while Granpa symbolizes the reluctance of man (or woman) to be moved from lawful property. The other family members symbolize different important aspects such as hope, youth, sacrifice, innocence, persistence, admiration, and leadership. The most important of these is sacrifice, which is shown through Casy. The most visibly important link that keeps the family connected and stops them from easily moving is Tom Joad Jr. He was originally sentenced to four years in prison after killing a man in self-defense. However, after having behaving well in prison, the officials released him on parole after three years. One of the conditions of his parole stated that he must not leave the state of Oklahoma for a year. As the Joad Family was forced to move reluctantly westward, Tom admitted to his parents the conditions of parole, but the circumstances left no alternatives. Thus, the Joad family moved on westward, already hopeless, and against the law. This later played a major role in the novel, for as they moved, their sadness’ accumulate, and create an enormous burden that the whole family must join to carry it together. However, as all people are bound to do after carrying the weight of the world upon their shoulders, Ruthie, at the very young age of 12, dropped her load, and brought an even greater load when she unwittingly told of her brother’s crimes. Although to most people this would be horrible and they would not be able to take it any more, the Joad’s had already suffered, and because they had a definite purpose in their minds, one from which it was impossible to shake them from, they went on.
Al-Qudsi 4 Some of the books found in the “Literary Canon” are not exactly famous with teenagers or high school students, but The Grapes of Wrath does not present itself in this way. It includes a complex writing system that appeals to the youth by its simplicity, and to the elderly through its intricate, interwoven, and unequivocally realistic plot. The Grapes of Wrath shows the troubles an average family from the middle class suffered. It may appear now that, seventy-five years later that this experience no longer exists in America. However, this is not true, and the reason why this may appears to be so results since the nation is no longer based on farming, and depending on the manual strength and labor of its men and women to run it, but is actually the advanced form of the fulfillment of the dangers viewed in The Grapes of Wrath. Therefore, the forms of sadness in The Grapes of Wrath have changed into one not recognized by most. The office jobs occupied by most middle class citizens today could even be compared to a form of menial labor, one that we wish to find, and hope for it. Taken into consideration with the jobs held by the CEO’s of this century, we can easily create an analogy that relates it to the 1930’s. However, the situation could be considered an improvement, for the standard of living has increased. The luxury held by the upper class in the 1930’s is now held by the middle-class today. Nevertheless, today’s upper class holds an unprecedented luxury, one never found in any past era. The Joads’ never had any personal opponents or enemies, and would never have had any, if not for the people’s hatred for everyone involved in the concept of migration from the Oklahoma region towards the western Coast. It is clear that had the Joad’s come at another time period, and not as a part of another mass migration,
Al-Qudsi 5 they would not have had such a difficult experience, and would have quickly found appropriate jobs and achieved a stable life, as well as accomplishing their dreams. The Grapes of Wrath is a complete book, filled with historical facts, and fun fiction. It uses a mixture of both to create an extremely realistic story, one that is incontrovertibly accurate in terms of history, and finally and most importantly, a good book. It gives its reader the experience that is second only to actually experiencing the great depression, living in the dust bowl, and suffering from unemployment for years in the 1930’s.
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