The Grapes of Wrath



John Steinbeck, widely recognized as one of the finest and most influential of American writers, was born to a middle-class family in 1902 in the Salinas Valley of California. He intermittently studied English and journalism at Stanford University for five years without taking a degree. Steinbeck was not an academic writer, but a writer of the people and for the people. His fiction often vividly, insightfully renders the most oppressed and downtrodden members of American society and openly criticizes systemic injustice. The Grapes of Wrath was written out of Steinbeck’s anger at the socioeconomic system of the era and his respect for the dignity of the tenant farmers to whom the novel gives voice.

In the early 1930s, massive drought wreaked havoc on the agricultural lands of the Great Plains, especially in Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. Because of excessive wheat cultivation after the first World War, these lands were already suffering from loose topsoil and, without rain, the crops simply could not take root. The topsoil was whipped up by the wind in massive, suffocating clouds and the area was dubbed “the Dust Bowl.” Hundreds of thousands of farmers and their families were crippled by debt and ultimately forced off the land by the banks to which they owed money. Believing they could find work in the fertile valleys of California, many of these families began relocating there. By the mid-1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, California was crowded with migrant workers. Lacking homes and reasonable means of income, the migrants had no choice but to live in crowded encampments, and they often died of starvation.

Angered by the plight of the migrant workers and the socioeconomic inequities that had given rise to it, Steinbeck decided to write The Grapes of Wrath. He researched the novel, in part, by traveling with and living among the migrant workers for periods of time. According to one letter to a friend, Steinbeck “wrote The Grapes of Wrath in one hundred days, but many years of preparation preceded...

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