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Stereotypes in "The Grapes of Wrath"

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Stereotypes in "The Grapes of Wrath"

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  • September 28, 2007
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John Steinbeck explores many themes in "The Grapes of Wrath"; such as, the importance of avoiding stereotypes/labels and the need to share what we have with others. Steinbeck conveys these two themes through setting and characterization.

Steinbeck opens the novel by describing the dust bowl in Oklahoma and the "men and women huddled in their houses, and they tied their handkerchiefs over their noses when they went out, and wore goggles to protect their eyes." (pg 3) Steinbeck made it clear that the families in Oklahoma were suffering; the dust bowl would soon force them to leave their homes and set out to the West. In chapter nineteen, the readers learn that California used to once belong to Mexico. However, the Americans believed they owned the land and took California away from the Mexicans. Now, the descendents of these Americans try to control the land and do not want the "Okies", the migrants from Oklahoma, to occupy California. Therefore, the stereotypes and rude behavior against the tenants begin.

"…They'll drink a five-cent soda and crab that it ain't cold enough. The woman will use six paper napkins and drop them on the floor. The man will choke and try to put the blame on Mae. The woman will sniff as though she smelled rotting mean and they will go out again and tell forever afterward that the people in the West are sullen…She calls them shitheels." (pg 156) This is the impression Mae, a waitress, has on the Okies. The label "Okies" itself means the migrants are not human; instead, they are poor and dirty. They are thieves and criminals. When a poor man enters Mae's hamburger stand, she was very reluctant to sell him a loaf of bread. After Al growls at Mae, she obediently sells the man bread and charges two pieces of nickel candy for a penny. Mae's change of heart can be debatable, but her cruel judgments were still evident.

"Well, you aint in your country now. You're in California, an' we don't want you goddamn Okies settlin' down." (pg 214)...