Review: “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

The Great Depression dealt a hard blow to the American people, and the U.S. has never recovered from it.  John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is set in those confused and unjust times.  The author follows the exodus of millions of families from their home states, especially focusing on the tribulations of the Joads from Oklahoma.

The simplicity of language with which the story is narrated, although unnecessarily raunchy, increases the realism and boldness of the novel’s many messages.  Many issues are discussed and criticized.  Families from farms and small businesses are forced from their homes not only because of the Dust Bowl’s effects on their crops but also due to the owners’ or bank’s desire for profit and avoiding bankruptcy.

Hypocrisy is a dominant behavior, for all sharecroppers are made homeless by force on account of profit and other unknown reasons, then ostracized and oppressed by society for not having any money or homes.  For instance, when ignorant buyers try to purchase automobiles for their upcoming journey to California, Steinbeck gives a very perceptive inside analysis of the car dealers’ tricks and overpricing.  Moreover, no matter where the homeless migrants go, they are constantly shut out from cities and towns.  In fact, hypocrisy is one of the dominant themes in The Grapes of Wrath, as shown by the overwhelming migration to California.  Deceptive flyers first invited starving farm workers to California with promises of good wages.  However, when families arrive in “the land of milk and honey,” they discover how deeply they were lied to.

Extortion, injustice, prejudice, and crime are prevalent as the “local law enforcement agencies” in California show their true colors through illegal, discriminatory actions.  All migrants, especially “Okies,” are persecuted by so-called sheriff’s deputies and police officers, whether it is concerning a search for a place to sleep, a debate about higher wages from greedy employers, or legal employment.  The law enforcement agencies could be better termed as a local mafia.  Despicable sheriff’s deputies participate in local strikes as the employers’ “defenders,” resorting to murder and concealed crime.  They also roam local farms and involve themselves in the hiring process for workers.

One example of their corruption is a scene where a land contractor and his friend, a sheriff’s deputy, visit a Hooverville, a.k.a. a homeless camp.  When one of the homeless workers questions the contractor’s intentions and demands legal verification of his intent to hire and estimated wages, he is promptly threatened with arrest by the deputy.  Instant resistance results in gunshot by the deputy and an innocent bystander loses her hand in a “missed” shot.  The backup deputies who arrive to assist the first deputy care less about the injured woman.  À propos, the federal government’s lack of response and aid to all those homeless migrants made it involved with the law enforcement agencies in a collective crime against innocent U.S. citizens, a clear act of discrimination.

Steinbeck’s memorable characters are relative to modern society, from a questioning former preacher to the struggling Joad family.  The migration route to California itself can still be traced on a modern map.  Weedpatch, where the Joads find a friendly decent government camp, continues to exist as a town, while Bakersfield and Tulare in Tulare County are major modern cities.  The Grapes of Wrath demonstrates very well how the greed of many landowners caused unfortunate farm workers to steal and beg for their starving families’ survival, slowly growing the “grapes of wrath.”

The migrants were more than willing to work for their living, and their anger at their treatment was just.  The landowners, on the other hand, were very eager to cheat with low, unacceptable wages, unprofitable crops, and unused land.  One of the most rousing scenes in the story is when unused produce is rather burned and thrown into a river than given for free to starving families.  Resident Californians were so stingy and avaricious that they let their fields lie fallow in order to prevent anyone from profiting in any way.

Instead of fixing the cause for the mass migration, Californians decided to “fight” it by inflicting prejudice and defending their “ownership.”  They decided to intimidate, harass, and destroy penniless families, who only wanted to survive and live, through their corrupted “local law enforcement agencies.”  Californians would go to any manner of crime to eradicate the homeless, which was their ultimate goal.  While portraying one family’s personal problems and struggles together with the united troubles of many in a complex storyline, the author proves how truly separated the “United” States of America have been and still are.

Freedom is not part of reality, and though the characters in the novel all strive to find goodness among their fellow humans, they find mostly evil.  The Grapes of Wrath is a stirring, formidable work of fiction with detailed, realistic content and vivid descriptions of human events that still occur in California today.  The local law enforcement agencies still intimidate residents and act illegally as they did decades ago.  The same situations and characters from The Grapes of Wrath live on in modern times, making it an unforgettable experience and more factual than fictional.  It is a necessary read for all Americans.  The rest of the world will benefit from seeing Steinbeck’s vision and realizing what the U.S. truly is—a hopeless land divided, corrupted, and infected with crime.

Original review: Part 1: A powerful novel that is very relevant to modern timesPart 2: A powerful novel that is very relevant to modern timesPart 3: A powerful novel that is very relevant to modern timesPart 4: A powerful novel that is very relevant to modern times,


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