Steinbek's Myth of the Okies

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John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath serves as a milestone in the plethora of literature addressing the lives, adversities and perseverance of those affected by the American Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. However, the responses generated by the book vary greatly. Some have hailed it as one of the great American masterpieces, flaws included, whilst others describe it as a "so-so" book fraught with distorted, dramatised history and propaganda. The question that persists sixty-six years after the publication of the novel, and sixty-five years after the début of John Ford's black and white drama, is can this work serve as reliable history and enduring literature? The novel was always intended to be a literal account of the hardships of the migrating "Okies", yet as Keith Windschuttle eloquently dissects in his article Steinbeck's Myth of the Okies, the historical distortions of the narrative, regardless of the author's intention, abound.

Before assessing the historical merit of such a work it is important to systematically debunk the gross inaccuracies of the text. When assessing the historical writing of narrative, especially fictitious writing that presents itself as history, it is important to take into account the inherent subjective nature of a narrative. When creating any account of history it is unavoidable that the writer of fiction (or even brute fact) will select and combine sources he designates as relevant in order to aid the overall meaning-making process of the text. Thus, Steinbeck's attempt to generate dramatised myth around the history of depression and in particular the Okies, is only a function of the narrative intended to "capture" the reader. For example, in response to Keith Windschuttle's article some readers of the New Criterion have been quoted;

"…the greatness of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's masterpiece and one of the great American novels, should not be minimized, and I believe Mr. Windshuttle was wrong to do so. It is...
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