Analysis of Steinbecks' 'Grapes of Wrath' and 'Moon Is Down'

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Whilst John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” has always been judged as a valuable work of literature, “The Moon is Down”, although accepted as a piece of WW2 propaganda, has been criticised as “well intention but poorly conceived”.[1] To what extent do you agree with the judgement of these two texts?

According to Montgomery et al’s “Ways of Reading”, F.R. Leavis stated that to achieve the position of a literary “classic”, a novel should have; “Characteristics such as complexity, aesthetic unity, literary language, subject-matter and canonical status”[2] John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” shows all of these qualities to show that it is intrinsically valuable. However, Steinbeck’s “The Moon is Down”, although recognised as a piece of World War Two propaganda, has been criticised as not obtaining similar storytelling techniques. “The Moon is Down” uses accurate World War Two references to convey the reality of the story and the true cost that it has on both the conquered and the conquerors. I will argue that both novels are of value, whilst “The Grapes of Wrath” has greater status, “The Moon is Down” is equally deserved of this critical acclaim and value.

The “classic” pieces of literature throughout time all have a special value which is usually judged by the complexity of the plot, combined with structure, language and the ideas expressed. Complexity of a plot can be shown by sub-plots, interweaving with the main plot, that highlight and shadow the themes expressed by the main plot and protagonists. “The Grapes of Wrath” shows this by Steinbeck’s use of a periodic sequence to form his chapters, switching from the general, to the particular and to nature, Steinbeck expresses the commonness of the Joad’s tale and uses nature to create a sympathetic and unifying imagery. The occasional use of perspective chapters shows the tragic regularity of the extreme poverty suffered by many migrant families, similar to the Joads: “Then they asked, What’ll we do? And the men replied, I don’t know.” Steinbeck uses these reflective chapters to expose the power of the banks and the proprietors, at whose hands the “Okies” suffer due to mans inhumanity to man. Although Steinbeck does not use sub-plots in “The Moon is Down”, he uses heavy description to show the unity of the townspeople against their conquerors in a similar fashion to the actions of Mayor Orden and his close citizens: “The people did not stand in the streets long, but they entered the doors and the doors closed and there seemed to be eyes looking from behind the curtains.” Due to the description of the civilians as “the people”, Steinbeck uses these descriptions to cause the reader to acknowledge the loss of the individual and the mass social degradation that they have caused themselves in a bid to mentally destroy their conquerors.

Valued literary texts also use language which is described as complex, the use of language with a social/historical context and also language which describes the scenario or environment is so in-depth that it allows the reader to believe that each word is chosen for its own specific role in the text. Steinbeck’s use of slang or colloquial language in “The Grapes of Wrath” is shown in contrast with the successful Californians, emphasising the alienation between these two sets of Americans. A key aspect is the humour which is found in the speech of the “Okies”, where Steinbecks emphasises their lack of sophistication even with the likes of the used car salesman and Mae from the snack bar. “Took Albert two weeks drivin’ aroun’ the neighbours ‘fore he got his stuff back”

Steinbeck’s masterpiece “The Moon is Down” is put into true context when comparing it with the “guts in the mud” literature that was common during World War Two. Where bias Literature was written in Allied countries such as the USA to keep positivity high within the naïve general public. Through characters such as Colonel Lanser, Steinbeck reveals the harsh reality of...
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