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Grapes of Wrath: Dustbowl Disaster

Oct 08, 1999 336 Words
In the 1930s, drought and horrific dust storms turned the

once-fertile agricultural lands of mid-America into virtual

dust bowls and wastelands. Thousands of destitute farmers

packed their families and belongings into and onto their cars

and left their homes in search of agricultural work in central

California. Their plight and the politics of that day are told in

the novel "The Grapes of Wrath." Published in 1939 by

California writer John Steinbeck, the book won the 1940

Pulitzer Prize. In his book, Steinbeck champions the

downtrodden migrants, as he follows the Joad family from

Oklahoma to California. Tom Joad, eldest son, is the book's

protagonist and his efforts to save his family are the core of

the book's story. As Steinbeck writes in his book, "The

moving, questing people were migrants now. Those families

which had lived on a little piece of land, who had lived and

died on forty acres, had now the whole West to rove in.

And they scampered about, looking for work; and the

highways were streams of people, and the ditch banks were

lines of people." Often known as "Okies," a derogatory

term, Dust Bowl immigrants like the fictional Joads did not

get a warm welcome from California's farmers and

politicians. The newcomers were herded into slum-like

migrant camps, given low wages for back-breaking work,

and treated like criminals. Much of this was an effort by

local farmers to take advantage of a cheap labor pool and to

prevent labor organizing that would raise wages. Much of it

was the result of fear on the part of Californians who were

faced with a huge influx of ragged families. Whatever the

cause, the result wasn't pretty. It shaped the development of

the Midwest, which lost thousands of people and farms, and

of California, which had to develop a new social order to

handle the transplants. The problems faced by those from

Oklahoma are not unlike those faced today by migrant

workers from Mexico.

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