Grapes of Wrath

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Grapes of Wrath

Of all the injustices that are bestowed upon mankind, none are greater than the ones inflicted by our own species of apathy towards poverty and the hardships of our brothers. Mother nature also inflicts much damage to mankind in instances such as Hurricane Katrina. Steinbeck gives a view of human frailties and strengths from many different perspectives in The Grapes of Wrath, just as Josh Neufeld does in New Orleans After the Deluge. This book demonstrates how people can overcome destitution, team up to find solutions, and provide protection and security in times of trouble, similar to Aaron Ralston’s experience while trapped hiking. Steinbeck introduces people who are hard working and honest, that reach out selflessly with compassion towards others. However, not everyone reacts to austerity and oppression in the same way. Large groups of people can cause suspicion to outsiders. Ignorant people can be paralyzed by an incomprehensible fear of the unknown, and react with cruelty, prejudice, and hatred toward newcomers that are different from them. This irrational behavior can lead to unnecessarily violence and driving others to the ground, as well as becoming an alcoholic, which happened to Frank McCourt’s father in Angela’s Ashes. Depicted in this book is capitalism at its worst; landowners, corporations, and government officials exploit the poor and abuse the downtrodden.

The Grapes of Wrath is an American allegory of human suffering that takes place in a dark period of the history of our nation, brought on by the Dust Bowl migration from Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas, during the 1930s and the depression. People experience this tragedy in different ways. The landowner who had to remove the families was torn in turmoil; Steinbeck writes, “ Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold.” Others found ways to be apathetic cowards, allowing the blame to fall on “The Bank—or the Company,” which in turn, “…provided a refuge from thought and from feeling.” (31) The expulsion of families from their homes evokes different emotions from different people but no one escapes the wrath of this tragic event. In this short description, many human emotions are presented: anger, cruelty, indifference, apathy, and compassion.

The story follows the Joad family who lose their tenant farm due to a severe dust storm in Oklahoma, and their experiences during the trek to California and the hardships encountered on the way. Before leaving on their trip, the Joads must sell all of their farm implements and reduce their belongings because they need money for travel and survival. Steinbeck gives us many portrayals of exploitation of the downtrodden migrant. In this instance, the car dealers take advantage of the people who need to leave and have to buy a car to get to California. Capitalism at its worst is portrayed when these unscrupulous dealers do a bait and switch move, where they show a car for sale but never sell it. “Today’s bargain—up on the platform. Never sell it. Makes them come in though.” The dealer talks about how they will take advantage of people and sell them “lemons.”(62)

However, the car dealers aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the powerless tenant farmers making a mass exodus for California. Men, dressed in fancy cloths come to town specifically to buy up farm equipment and offer far less than what it is worth. “And the men in the seat were tired and angry and sad, for they had got eighteen dollars for every movable thing from the farm: the horses, the wagon, the implements, and all the furniture from the house. (96) It is a sad description of apathy towards misfortune, and the ruthless willingness to play upon people in a time of ruination.

Despite the small amount of...
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