The Joad Family

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John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath tells the specific story of the Joad family in order to show the hardship and oppression suffered by migrant laborers during the Great Depression. It is an excellent example of how the corporate and banking elites chastised farmers by shortsighted policies meant to maximize profit even while forcing farmers into destitution and even starvation. The novel begins with the description of the conditions in Dust Bowl Oklahoma that ruined the crops and instigated massive foreclosures on farmland. No specific characters emerge initially, I think when Steinbeck made this book he describes events in a larger social context with those more specific to the Joad family.

Tom Joad, a man not yet thirty, approaches a diner dressed in spotless, somewhat formal clothing. He hitches a ride with a truck driver at the diner, who presses Tom for information until Tom finally reveals that he was just released from McAlester prison, where he served four years for murdering a man during a fight. Steinbeck follows this with an interlude describing a turtle crossing the road, which he uses as a metaphor for the struggles of the working class. On his travels home, Tom meets his former preacher, Jim Casy, a talkative man gripped by doubts over religious teachings and the presence of sin. He gave up the ministry after realizing that he found little wrong with the sexual reliaisons he had with women in his congregation. Casy espouses the view that what is holy in human nature comes not from a distant god, but from the people themselves. Steinbeck contrasts Tom's return with the arrival of bank representatives to evict the tenant farmers and the tractors to farm the land. He raises the possibility of a working class insurrection, but cannot find an effective target for collective action. .

Tom Joad finds the rest of his family staying with Uncle John, a morose man prone to depression after the death of his wife several years before. His mother is a strong, sturdy woman who is the moral center of family life. His brother, Noah, may have been brain damaged during childbirth, while his sister, Rose of Sharon (called Rosasharn by the family) is recently married and pregnant. Her husband, Connie Rivers, has dreams of studying radios. Tom's younger brother, Al, is only sixteen and has the concerns befitting that age. This is followed by a more general description of the sale of items by impoverished families who intend to leave Oklahoma for California, as the Joads expect to do. The Joads plan to go to California based on flyers they found advertising work in the fields there. These flyers, as Steinbeck will soon reveal, are fraudulent advertisements meant to draw more workers than necessary and drive down wages. Jim Casy asks to accompany the Joads to California so that he can work with people in the fields rather than preach at them. Before the family leaves, Grampa Joad refuses to go, but the family gives him medicine that knocks him unconscious and takes him with them. The subsequent chapters describes the vacant houses that remain after the Oklahoma farmers leave for work elsewhere, as well as the conditions on Route 66, the highway that stretches from Oklahoma to Bakersfield, California.

Almost immediately into the journey, the Joad family loses two members. The first victim is the family dog, which is run over during their first stop. The second is Grampa Joad, who dies of a stroke. The Wilson family helps the Joads when Grampa dies, and the two families decide to make the journey to California together. Steinbeck follows this with a larger statement about the growing of a collective consciousness among the working class, who shift their perceptions from "I" to "we." The Wilson's car soon breaks down, and Tom and Casy consider separating from the rest of the family temporarily to fix the car, but Ma Joad refuses to let the family break apart even temporarily. Tom and Al do find the necessary part to...
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