Critical Analysis: The Grapes Of Wrath
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: English Literature|
|✅ Wordcount: 2637 words||✅ Published: 9th May 2017|
In 1939, John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, an epic novel that follows the Joad family through their dispossessed plight from Oklahoma to California (Steinbeck). The novel has had many trials of its own over the years, with censorship being a never ending quandary. To know the author is to understand his portrayal of migrant workers. His method of research made the book that he wrote more believable and brought real life into his fiction. The Grapes of Wrath, a book portraying the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, was written by an author that has had much controversy surrounding him, including his use of certain ideas and subject matter, which led to censorship of the book by many librarians and administrators.
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The Great Depression lasted throughout the 1930s. Life was hard for most Americans and many were force to leave their homes. "The conditions of the Depression were so overpowering that they brought traditional American individualism into question" (Dickstein, 118). Because of the Depression, it seemed that Americans were unable to figure out how to cope with the new challenges that they faced every day. "Well, they was gonna stick her out when the bank come to tractorin' off the place" (Steinbeck, 59). In the Grapes of Wrath, the Joads thought they could just give it time and their lives would get back to normal. They began their journey battered by brutal, impersonal forces, drought and dust storms, a stagnant economy, and the greed of wealthy corporate farmers (Henry). Joining others on the great east-west Highway 66, the Joads are part of an exodus that is Biblical in scope (Henry). "66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight (Steinbeck, 151). The exodus of many on Highway 66 toward California made the highway the path to greatness and away from despair.
In the southwestern Great Plains, land that once was covered with grasses that held the soil through drought and flood, but the farmers plowed to grow wheat and to raise cattle, left the earth exposed (Sanna). "When drought hit the region, the soil began to simply blow away; at times, the wind picked up so much soil that the sky turned dark, and the wind-born dust was reported to have traveled as far as the Atlantic Ocean. In the Midwest, drifts of sand and dirt piled up against the houses, barns, and fences, while in other places, as much as four inches of soil were scoured away. This ruined acres and acres of land, forcing the farmers who lived there to give up their homes" (Sanna). The droughts had tremendous effects on the soil and this just striped the lands of any hope of recovering for awhile.
"In the 1930s, the economic disaster of the Great Depression was worsened in the southern plains states by the natural devastation of the Dust Bowl (Henry). "The plight and migration of the Joads, the Dust Bowl, the loss of a family home, the trek in search of work, the awful conditions for migrant farm labor, the struggle to keep the family together, became a metaphor for the Depression as a whole" (Dickstein, 112). Steinbeck did a good job of portraying what to many of his readers seemed to be a actual family. The sympathy he showed when describing them has become a part of us today.
Steinbeck emotionally involves the reader in the suffering that is encountered by the migrants. He helps the reader stay focused on the human predicament encountered during the disaster of the dust storm. "'I got to figure,' the tenant said. 'We all got to figure. There's some way to stop this. It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change.' The tenant sat in his door way, and the driver thundered his engine and started off, tracks falling and curving, harrows combing, and the phalli of the seeder slipping into the ground" (Steinbeck, 50). The imagery Steinbeck used to explain this example of the scope of what was happening to the Joads was amazing. You could almost feel what they were feeling at that moment.
"Shortly before the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck wrote in his diary, 'If only I could do this book properly, it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book'" (Sanna). "Steinbeck's personal ambition was immersed in The Grapes of Wrath, but he also believed strongly in the story's subject" (Sanna). Steinbeck seemed to want this to be a good book because he seemed so passionate about the subject matter. He seemed to feel that rural America was not given the acknowledgement of what hardships that they went through during this time of strife. He wanted everyone to know what the downfall of rural America meant to those who suffered the most during the Great Depression, that is why the story starts with the long description explaining the conditions of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl" (Sanna).
"John Steinbeck's long journey with The Grapes of Wrath began during the fall of 1933, when he took long walks around Salinas, to gain relief from the stresses of caring for his dying parents. There he encountered the beat-up cars from Oklahoma, stacked to the hilt with furniture and other possessions and bound west. One day Steinbeck visited a shantytown outside Salinas, which had been dubbed 'Little Oklahoma' by the locals, and heard the people's stories. 'There's a novel here somewhere,' he later told his wife, Carol" (Bloom). This was the beginning of his campaign to find the answers and information about these sometimes forgotten individuals and what stories they had to tell about their own journey to what was supposed to be a better life.
Some background information on Steinbeck shows his choice of settings, the subject matter of his book and what he really liked to write about. Steinbeck set his stories in places that were inhabited by hard-working farmers, ranchers, and migrant workers such as the Salinas Valley (Price). "John Steinbeck based much of his fiction on actual events and experimented with several genres of nonfiction, including personal essays, travel writing, and political and social commentary. His interest in journalism, however, is often treated as ancillary to his writing of fiction, which is regarded as his real work and true calling" (Whitt).
"Fortunately for his biographers, his critics, and his readers, John Steinbeck kept a journal during most of his career, in particular, he often wrote separate journals as complements to his novels. He began his writing days with letters and journals in the morning, warming up to fiction in the afternoon. His journals allowed him to project his ideas, chart his progress, and record his moods as he proceeded toward a finished book" (Millichap). If Steinbeck did not keep journals during his career, most of his books probably wouldn't have been as successful as they were because he used them as reference for his writings. They seemed to have given him a never-ending source of new material to use.
The Grapes of Wrath not only earned Steinbeck a Pulitzer Prize in 1940, it also helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1962. In 1999, editors of The Modern Library ranked The Grapes of Wrath the tenth best English-language novel out of one hundred from the last century (Price). " Since it was first published, The Grapes of Wrath has sold more than 14 million copies, continues to sell approximately 100,000 paperback copies a year, and, according to Robert Demott, it has been translated into 'nearly every language on earth'" (Price).
"This epic novel demonstrates the range of Darwin's theory, including the essential aspects of evolution: the struggle for existence and the process of natural selection. The migrant workers move across the land as a species, uprooted from one niche and forced to gain a foothold in another. Their struggle is intensified by capitalism's perversion of natural competition, but this only makes the survivors that much tougher" (Railsback). It is amazing that a theory like this can be seen easily in this book. The natural competition between the migrant workers and the bankers or other capitalist individuals shows the struggle. An example of this is when Steinbeck cleverly brings together the agricultural way of life (the farmers) and the mechanical age (the automobile). A naive farmer offers to barter a pair of mules for the partial payment of a car. The salesman quickly exploits the farmer's lack of knowledge about the car business (Steinbeck, 82).
The ending of the book has also raised some controversy when it comes to the assumed sexually explicitness of the final scene where Rose of Sharon breastfeeds the man to give him nourishment. "Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. 'you got to,' she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. 'There!' she said. 'There.' Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously" (Steinbeck 581). "Sex exists here in its most abstracted, perfected sense; implicitly, however, it is within the understanding of the women, Ma and Rose of Sharon, who look "deep into each other" before Rose of Sharon assents to Ma's request, unasked with words. What ensues is an almost philosophically justified use of sexual powers: right use of the body's intimate reproductive faculties to promote Life itself" (Ditsky). I don't know if I agree that this is implicitly sex. My opinion is that the man needed nourishment and since she had lost the baby and had the means to give him the nourishment, it was just one individual helping another to survive.
Censorship of The Grapes of Wrath was an ongoing event from the writing of the book until the present. "The Grapes of Wrath faced censorship challenges just months after it was published (April 1939). National, regional, and state surveys attest to this, as well as to the novel's rating among the "most frequently" challenged books" (Karolides). The following information breaks down the censorship challenges that The Grapes of Wrath faced over the years. It gives an idea of the scope of time and places that it has been challenged. "Lee Burress in his five national surveys of librarians or schoolteachers/administrators reports multiple cases: 1966-five challenges (tied for fourth most frequently); 1973-four (tied for third); 1977-eight (second place); 1982-six (tied for sixth); 1988-two challenges. In Burress's master list of the 22 most frequently challenged books in American high schools 1965-81, The Grapes of Wrath placed second; on a comparable list for 1965-82, the novel was in fourth place. Surveys conducted by James Davis in Ohio (1982) and Kenneth Donelson in Arizona (1967) also identify challenges, as do those of Georgia (1982, 1984), North Carolina (1983), Minnesota (1991), and People For the American Way (1992)" (Karolides). Some of the reasons given for censorship included reasons of indecency, obscenity, abhorrence of the portrayal of women, portraying life in a bestial way, vulgar words, and falsely portraying that many fine people are a low, ignorant type living in a filthy manner (Karolides). It was the subject of many book burnings throughout the country also. This book was banned in many places, including Kansas, Ohio, Illinois, California, Missouri, and Tennessee among other places (Karolides).
The latest censorship in my research was in a lawsuit in 2000 in the town of Puyallup, Washington where "36 students and 23 parents against the Puyallup School District accused the district of tolerating a racially hostile environment, citing assaults on minority students and racist graffiti and slurs. In addition, the group also complained of racial slurs in exams and in class discussion of several offending texts", is including The Grapes of Wrath (Karolides). This example of censorship seemed to be mainly related to the wording that was used in the book. My opinion on this matter is that, because it was 1939, this was not an issue when the book was written. I know today that it is not acceptable, but at the writing of the book, it was common place for these words to be used.
The novel, The Grapes of Wrath is considered a classic and epic book. Without the knowledge that Steinbeck acquired by visiting with the migrant workers, it would not be believable fiction. This book portraying the plight of migrant workers during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl brought about much controversy and censorship because of the subject matter and use of words. The author received many awards for this book. This novel is a classic and even with the controversy, should continue to be read for generations to come.
Bloom, Harold, ed. "Background to The Grapes of Wrath."The Grapes of Wrath, Bloom's Guides. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2005. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 16 Feb. 2011.
Dickstein, Morris. "Steinbeck and the Great Depression." The South Atlantic Quarterly, 103.2 (2004): 211-231. Project Muse. Web. 10 Feb. 2011.
Ditsky, John. "The Ending of The Grapes of Wrath: A Further Commentary." Angora, 2 (Fall 1973) . Quoted as " The Ending of The Grapes of Wrath: A Further Commentary." in Bloom, Harold, ed. The Grapes of Wrath, Bloom's Guides. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2009. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 16 Feb. 2011.
Henry, Michael and Lesley Mackay. "Fascinating Classics: The Grapes of Wrath." Imagine 5.3 (1998): 24-25. Project Muse. Web. 11 Feb. 2011
Karolides, Nicholas J. "Censorship History of The Grapes of Wrath." Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds, Revised Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 15 Feb. 2011.
Millichap, Joseph R. ""The Grapes of Wrath": Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, and: Looking For Steinbeck's Ghost, and: Working Days: The Journals of "The Grapes of Wrath" (review)." MFS Modern Fiction Studies 35.4 (1989): 753-756. Project Muse. Web. 9 Feb. 2011
Price, Michael. "Champion of the Common Man: John Steinbeck and His Achievement." In Bloom, Harold, ed. John Steinbeck, Bloom's BioCritiques. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2003. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 12 Feb. 2011
Railsback, Brian E. "The Darwinian Grapes of Wrath." InParallel Expeditions: Charles Darwin and the Art of John Steinbeck. Moscow: University of Idaho Press, 1995. Quoted as "The Darwinian Grapes of Wrath" in Bloom, Harold, ed. The Grapes of Wrath, Bloom's Guides. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2009. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. 10 Feb.2011.
Sanna, Ellyn. "Steinbeck, John." In Bloom, Harold, ed. John Steinbeck, Bloom's BioCritiques. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 2003. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 16 Feb. 2011.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 1976. Print.
Whitt, Jan. ""To Do Some Good and No Harm": The Literary Journalism of John Steinbeck." Steinbeck Review 3.2 (2006): 41-62. Project Muse. Web. 9 Feb. 2011.
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