Migration & mosaics 304
Book Review (Immigrant experience): Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath. By John Steinbeck. New York: The Viking Press- James Loyd, 1939. Pg. 619. $10. (hardcover).
Reviewed by Lars M. Erickson
(sorry for the length of this paper, It’s a long book and I had A lot to say) Summary/overview
The novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, takes you on a chronicle of one family’s migration, from Oklahoma to California as a result of exodus. The family is forced to migrate west in search of a livelihood during the great depression of the 1930’s. The structure of the chapters in this book alternate between narrating the journey of the Joad family with descriptions of the westward movement of migrant farmers in the 1930s as they flee drought and industry. Steinbeck, a native of California, draws from first hand experiences to guide the reader not only along the journey of one family in particular, the Joad’s but, to also expose the desperate conditions of migrant farming-families faced during the great depression in America. The Joad family was a part of a migration of people called “okies” which were farmers from the southwest that migrated westward in search of opportunity. The Okies were farmers whose topsoil blew away due to dust storms and were forced to migrate along Route 66 to California in search of work. The Okies were resented for migrating in large numbers to areas in the West where work was already hard to find and the sudden multitude of workers caused wages to be lowered. The Joad's reside in Oklahoma, referred to as the "Dust Bowl" of the U.S .because of its lack of rain. The Joads’ were sharecroppers evicted from their homes because they failed to pay the bank their loan payments to the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company. The entire area was being evicted by the land owners, forcing sharecroppers’ to leave all that they have ever know and cared for behind in search of a sustained life elsewhere.
The novel opens up by introducing the main characters and painting a picture of a dried up withering Oklahoma farming region. Released from an Oklahoma state prison after serving four years of a manslaughter conviction, Tom Joad makes his way back to his family's farm amid the desolation of the Dust Bowl. He meets Jim Casy, a former preacher and the man who baptized Tom as a child. Tom gives the old preacher a drink from his flask of liquor, and Casy tells Tom how he decided to stop preaching. He admits that he had a habit of taking girls “out in the grass” after prayer meetings and tells Tom that he was conflicted for some time, not knowing how to reconcile his sexual appetite with his responsibility for these young women’s souls. Eventually, however, he came to the decision that “there ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing.” No longer convinced that human pleasures run counter to a divine plan, Casy believes that the human spirit is the Holy Spirit. Jim accompanies Tom to his family’s farm; when they find it deserted, fronted by withered crops, they find Muley in that house. Muley is an old family friend that stayed behinde while his family leaves for California to tend to his rightful land. He explains haltingly that a large company has bought all the land in the area and evicted the tenant farmers in order to cut labor costs. The three men proceed forward traveling to Tom's Uncle John's house, where they find the Joads preparing for a long trip to California in search of work. The entire family has gone to work picking cotton in hopes of earning enough money to buy a car and make the journey to California. Large California landowners have poster announcement for employment throughout western Oklahoma, and Ma and Pa Joad have decided to move their family their; evicted from their farm by the bank that owned it, they feel as though they have no choice. Once Tom has been reunited...