Intercalary Chapters to Add Perspective to The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath stands as a symbol of the economical, social, and emotional impact of The Great Depression on migrant farmers. Published in 1939, this American realist novel won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction; it was also prominently cited when Steinbeck won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. The novel's main focus was the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant famers out of work. The Joads, being stuck in the dust bowl and a very hopeless situation, set out for California along with thousands of other "Okies" who sought jobs, land, dignity and a future. Although some argue that the unconventional structure of The Grapes of Wrath confuses and distracts from the plot of the novel, the unification of the intercalary and narrative chapters enhances social and humanist themes of the novel. Steinbeck uses the plot-narrative chapters to evoke sympathy in individuals while supplementing this emotional attachment with a broader view of society in the intercalary chapters which also provide historical information the novel would otherwise lack. The unification of these two types of chapters is hoped to contribute to the overall purpose of the novel: to enlighten individuals of the Great Depression and its affect on the migrants.
Steinbeck uses the plot-narrative chapters to evoke sympathy in individuals so that they may be able to understand the Great Depression and its affect on migrant workers easier. Overall, it is hard for someone who has not personally experienced the Great Depression to feel sympathy for it so, to reach the goal of enlightening readers, Steinbeck first had to catch and keep individuals' attention and create a newfound sympathy for the migrants of the Great Depression. In the small setting that these individuals are tucked into in the plot-narrative chapters, they are clearly able to feel how the Joads feel as the story progresses: they struggle alongside the characters and begin to understand what the migrants were going through more clearly (Brooks). To create an emotional response in these people, Steinbeck had a writing technique in mind that broke down the unimaginable sorrow in the Great Depression. His technique first showed the reader the Joads, a compassionate, strong-willed family that was always looking out for one another (Brooks). He created the Joad family making sure that they were a lovable group that could easily grow on one's heart and easily be loved. Through an array of different characters within the family, Steinbeck could display different sides of the Great Depression and show how different people react; he also could ensure that every reading individual has someone to favor (Sieloff). By showing the audience how the family cared so deeply about one another and including selfless and lovable characters, the readers felt emotionally troubled when the family suffered. For example, Ma Joad always put her family first and even deprived herself if one were in need (Brooks). Her deep selflessness was demonstrated when Mrs. Wainwright had to convince Ma to sleep after Rose-of-Sharon lost her baby; she said "Come on, jus' lay down. You'll be right beside her. Why, you'd wake up is she took a deep breath even" (Steinbeck, 606). Through the plot-narrative chapters, it is easy to fall in love with the Joads and to wish well for them. With this emotional attachment, Steinbeck effectively demonstrates the emotional impact of the Great Depression and evokes a sympathy within previously uninvolved individuals.
In addition to these plot-narrative chapters, Steinbeck uses intercalary chapters so that the readers feel sympathy for society as a whole in the Great Depression rather than solely the Joad family. These intercalary chapters do not progress the story but...
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