Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath

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The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck is based in the 10’s at the time of the Great Depression. There was much development at this time, which contributed and added to the hardships and struggles of the migrating people. There were many social, economical, cultural and political developments during this time.

The Social development of the migration for the less fortunate and poor families of Oklahoma showed a large and significant change. The Grapes of Wrath explains the time period through the Great Depression as a time of poverty and also a period of recession. The Joad family, after being kicked off their land, became poor and unable to afford day to day necessities to live. They also became a lot more social with other poor families like themselves, who were out looking for work. Ma Joad, instead of believing that only the more wealthier of the people could aid people in need, started to trust poor people, as she felt they were more worthy when she was in need for help. This also shows that there were more interactions between people during this time period instead of each family keeping to themselves ‘ We got an overload, but Mr. And Mrs. Wilson ain’t. If some of us folks could ride with them an’ take some of their light stuff in the truck, we wouldn’t break no springs an’ we could git up hills…We’d keep together on the road an’ it’d be good for ever’body.” ’ During this time money became a big issue and poor families worked together to find work.

Recession of the economy in the Great Depression led to a lot of problems that affected the wealthy people but almost rid of the poor people. The Joad family left their hometown of Oklahoma to look for jobs that paid enough to keep the family alive and well “…at each gate there was a sign ‘No help wanted. No trespassing.’” The more people that migrated to the West looking for work made it almost impossible for everyone to survive. “Al pulled up beside him. ‘Hey, Mister,’ Al said. ‘Know where they’s any work?’ The man stopped and grinned, and his mouth was vacant of front teeth. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Do you? I been walkin’ all week, an’ I cant tree none.’” There were fewer jobs available, which meant less money for the families and because the owners of the land knew the families needed the money, they lowered the wages so they kept more money for themselves “ ‘O.K., Mister. Whatcha payin’?’ ‘Two and a half cents.’ ‘Why, goddamn it, a man can’t make his dinner!’ ‘That’s what we’re payin’. There’s two hundred men coming from the South that’ll be glad to get it.’ The owners of the land didn’t care that the amount of money they were offering couldn’t even pay for a family to eat for one night. The economic development was closely linked to other changes, including cultural development.

The Cultural development of the era was a very prominent aspect in The Grapes of Wrath. Within the novel, the morals and ethics of man in general appear quite frequently. The morals and ethics of men during this era were significantly neglected when the men were forced to work extremely hard, for an insignificant amount of money. Incidences brought about because of the Depression, led men like Tom Joad to forget about morals, and to do what is needed to survive “Tom chuckled. “Well, this fella don’ want no hangin’, ‘cause he’d do it again. An’ same time, he don’t aim to bring trouble down on his folks...’ ” Tom knew that he would protect himself and his family even if that meant harming or even killing others.

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Another observation that seems to be very prominent in the novel is that during the Great Depression it wasn’t just a matter of men working and women staying at home, but rather the whole family helping to earn money “ ‘Her chin was set. ‘That’s what we’ll do. Here, come eat this here, an’ then get out to work. I’ll come out soon’s I get washed up. We got to make some money.’” The families lifestyles changed dramatically from peaceful day to day work on their own land, to stressful and hardworking labor on land that was not theirs. Women like Ma Joad became very powerful figures in the family, and at times took complete control, and overruled many decisions that the men made. The cultures of the people were also affected and were effected by, the political, social and economics developments.

The government usually has a major role in the political development. The government’s role during the Great Depression seemed to be one of help and aid towards the poor people. In The Grapes of Wrath, there were government camps, which gave the migrating people a place to clean themselves with running water and flushing toilets. This camp also gave the ‘Okies’ a freedom of speech to the rest of the campers and gave them space away from the interfering cops. The campers had a political say in what should happen in certain situations and who should do what job through a board committee ‘The Watchman settled himself back. “Works pretty nice. There’s five sanitary units. Each one elects a Central Committee man. Now that committee makes the laws. What they say goes.” ’ From reading the novel, there did not seem to be many camps like the ‘Weedpatch Camp’ so this seemed to be a new idea and a much more attractive ideas to the ‘Okies’.

During the era of Great Depression, there were a majority of significant developments, including economic, political, social and cultural changes. These changes affected the way the surviving poor and less wealthy people of the time period lived and coped through the tough, and sometimes life threatening migration, to better living.

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