The Grapes of Wrath: The Struggles of a Family of Immigrants

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is about a family that moves from Oklahoma to California. as a migrant family moving from Oklahoma to California the roads were miners. When they get there, Tom finds Ma and Pa Joad packing up a few possessions. Although the Joads press on, their first days in California prove tragic, as Granma Joad dies. The remaining family members move from one squalid camp to the next, looking in vain for work, struggling to find food, and trying desperately to hold their family together. Work is almost impossible to find or pays such a meager wage that a family full days work cannot buy a decent meal. A government-run camp proves much more hospitable to the Joads, and the family soon finds many friends and a bit of work. The Grapes of Wrath derives its epic scope from the way that Steinbeck uses the story of the Joad family to portray the plight of thousands of Dust Bowl farmers. The structure of the novel reflects this dual commitment: Steinbeck tracks the Joad family with long narrative chapters but alternates these sections with short, lyrical vignettes, capturing the westward movement of migrant farmers in the 1930s as they flee drought and industry. Steinbeck also skillfully captures the colorful, rough dialogue of his folk heroes You had that big nose goin over me like a sheep in a vegetable patch, Tom says to the truck driver in Chapter 2 thus bringing them to life. While Chapter 1 paints an impressionistic picture of the Oklahoma farms as they wither and die, Chapter 3 presents a symbolic depiction of the farmer's plights in the turtle that struggles to cross the road. As the relentless weather of Chapter 1 and the mean-spirited driver of Chapter 3 represent, the universe is full of obstacles that fill life with hardship and danger.

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The landowners and the banks, unable to make high profits from tenant farming, evict the farmers from the land. Muley explains haltingly that a large company has bought all the land in the area and evicted the tenant farmers in order to cut labor costs. When Tom asks if he can stay at Muley's place for the night, Muley explains that he, too, has lost his land and that his family has already departed for California. Notably, however, he does not directly vilify the landowners and bank representatives as they turn the tenant farmers off their land. Still, Steinbeck does not portray in detail the personal difficulties of the men who evict the farmers, nor of the conflicted neighbors who plow down their farms. His sympathies clearly lie with the farmers, and his descriptive eye follows these sympathies. If Tom Joad emerges as the novel's moral consciousness, then Jim Casy emerges as its moral mouthpiece. Although he claims he has lost his calling as a preacher, Casy remains a great talker, and he rarely declines an opportunity to make a speech.

Chapter 8 introduces us to the Joad family. Pa appears as a competent, fair-minded, and good-hearted head of the family, leading the Joads in their journeys, while Ma emerges as the family citadel, anchoring them and keeping them safe. When a farmer notes that surely California is a large enough state to support everyone, the attendant cynically replies, There ain't room enough for you me, for your kind my kind, for rich and poor together all in one country. The corporate farmers who replace the old families possess the same acquisitive mindset as their employers. Both Muley Graves and Grampa Joad represent the human reluctance to be separated from one's land. For the Joads mean to sever one kind of connection in favor of another, abandoning the land to keep the family together. Almost immediately, the Joads are exposed to the very hardships that Steinbeck describes in the alternating expository chapters that chronicle the great migration as a whole; the account of the family provides a close-up on the larger picture. Thus, in Chapter 13, at the gas station, the family encounters the hostility and suspicion described in Chapters 12, 14, and 15. The apologetic attendant confides in the Joads that his livelihood has been endangered by the fancy corporate service stations. Corporate gas companies have preyed upon the attendant; the attendant, in turn, insults the Joads and is initially loath to offer them help. The dog's gruesome death stands as a symbol of the difficulties that await the family difficulties that begin as soon as the family camps for the night. Coming after two sets of dire warnings from ruined migrant workers, Granmas death bodes especially ill for the Joads. Before the Joads even set foot on its soil, California proves to be a land of vicious hostility rather than of opportunity. The landowners fear that history will repeat itself and that the migrant farmers, who crave land and sustenance, will take their livelihood from them. The migrants, however, seeing acre upon acre of unused land, the dream of tending just enough of it to support their families.

[T]hat police. He done somepin to me, made me feel mean... ashamed. An’ now I ain’t ashamed... Why, I feel like people again…” When left to their own devices, and given shelter from the corrupt social system that keeps them down, the migrants make the first steps toward establishing an almost utopian mini-society. Indeed, the migrants show themselves to be more civilized than the landowners, as demonstrated by the way in which they respond to the Farmers Associations plot to sabotage the camp. Most of the wealthy landowners believe that poverty-stricken, uneducated farmers deserve to be treated contemptuously. The Joads experiences in the Weedpatch camp serve to illustrate one of the novel's main theses: humans find their greatest strength in numbers. The unity of the migrants poses the greatest threat to landowners and the socioeconomic system on which they thrive.He ranges from overt symbolism to heated sermonizing, to the didactic tone of a parable. In this part of the book, Steinbeck turns to the rough, native language of the people to convey a day on a cotton farm: the effect is an intimate, lively, and moving portrayal of the daily life of the migrants. Steinbeck portrays the rotten state of the economic system by describing the literal decay that results from this system's agricultural mismanagement. Desperate and discouraged, Ma announces that the family needs to move on; her seizure of authority rocks the traditional family structure. In the end Initially lacking the patience and energy to consider the future at all, he marches off to lead the struggle toward making that future a kinder and gentler one.

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