The Grapes of Wrath: The Great Exodus and the Land of Opportunity

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For many years, individuals have immigrated to the United States, the land of opportunity, in search for a better future not only for themselves, but for their children. These individuals are forced to leave their most cherished belongings behind, their homes, and their life for better opportunities. Throughout their journey, these individuals endure severe circumstances all in an effort to achieve the American Dream; they travel by foot or by car, it may take days, weeks, or months, and in some cases her or she may not reach their destination. The American Dream is the belief that any individual can obtain his or her own version of success in a society in which social mobility is possible for everyone. Individuals achieve the American Dream through sacrifice, hard-work, and risk-taking, rather than by chance all in an effort to survive. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck introduces issues that give an empathetic response to human suffering throughout America. John Steinbeck uses The Grapes of Wrath to portray how society has been conditioned to ignore the needs of others and dehumanize individuals who are seeking an opportunity to strive and survive in a new environment.

John Steinbeck describes the circumstances in which many poor, migrant workers are victimized and taken advantage of for their current living situations. Steinbeck narrates the migration of an Ohklahoma family, the Joads, to California because of the Dust Bowl and also illustrates the hardships that they endure. The great westward exodus creates a huge demand for second-hand vehicles and the crooked salesmen will exploit their desperation and sell the departing families any broken-down vehicle they can afford. While the salesmen wait for the farmers to arrive, Steinbeck describes them as predatory, “Owners with rolled-up sleeves. Salesmen, neat, deadly, a small intent eyes watching for weaknesses” (64). The salesmen take advantage of the poor migrant farmers having little to no knowledge on cars which as a result, they willingly pay for the extremely high prices for their vehicles. The salesmen fill engines with saw dust to hide the noisy transmission and replace good batteries with cracked ones; while traveling on Highway 66, farmers must stop to purchase car parts, where the new salesmen try to cheat them as well. Americans were selfish and full of greed, and they wanted to prosper as a result of others’ misfortunes; there is no compassion in the car sales, but an ongoing cycle of exploitation.

In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck focuses on class discrimination and the economic situiation of the migrant farmers as compared to that of the landowners. Throughout various chapters, Steinbeck explains the fear that the California landowners feel over the flood of migrant workers. Tension also increases amongst the merchant class because they cannot gain any capital from them which also causes for racial undertones. While in the camps, the deputies state, “Give ‘em somepin to think about. Got to keep ‘em in line or Christ only knows what they’ll do! Why, Jesus, they’re as dangerous as n…..s in the South! If they ever get together there ain’t nothin’ that’ll stop ‘em” (236). California quickly became overpopulated with migrant workers, jobs and food became scarce, and they faced prejudice and hostility from the Californians. They then begin to use the derogatory term “Okie” to describe those who might challenge the rich farmers and their agricultural interests.

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