The Grapes of Wrath: Trauma of The Great Depression
American novelist, John Steinbeck, is author to one of the most influential novels of his time period. That being, The Grapes of Wrath, which was published in 1939 depicted the trauma which Americans induced during the Great Depression. Many families were scarred from the memories of this time period, which forced them to leave what they called home and made them scavenge for money to support themselves.
The novel hit home for many Americans, as The Grapes of Wrath acted as a voice for many families who suffered during this time period. The Great Depression was the result of a domino effect: from the stock market crash in 1929 and the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. In The Grapes of Wrath, the struggles of the Joad family informs readers about culture, politics, and society in this era. Steinbeck teaches about the culture, politics, and society of this era through settings, scenarios, and characters in his novel.
The 1930s had a large spotlight of the American Dream and the thirst to be wealthy, which was a result of the Great Depressions scrutinizing effects. This urge for wealth shaped the culture of this era, which was quite understandable thinking back on the conditions of this time period. Steinbeck used his knowledge of this thirst towards richness, to contrast life of migrant workers and the glamorous life, shown in a few scenarios.1 For example, the novel goes on to say, The walls decorated with posters, bathing suits, blondes with big breasts and slender hips and waxen faces, in white bathing suits, and holding a holding a bottle of Coca-Cola and smiling, see what you get with a Coca-Cola. With that being said, the ad brings awareness to the lack of relation within the poster and reality. Furthermore, the migrant workers who had lost their homes and could barely afford to eat.3 Not to mention, there is a section in The Grapes of Wrath where Rose of Sharon had to heal a starving, grown man with her breast milk, which showed the desperation during this era. At the same time, there are posters of healthy women who do not seem to have a care in the world, while in reality, there are others struggling to make ends meet. As it has been noted, The Grapes of Wrath depicts the culture of the time period, as there was an urge for wealth, while the masses were striving for the American Dream.
Another way in which John Steinbeck denotes culture of the time, is by casting out the disadvantage migrant families had in this time period. For instance, in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck says, Mules! Hey, Joe, hear this? This guy wants to trade mules. Didn’t nobody tell you this is the machine age? They don’t use mules for nothing but glue no more. When this occurs, it shows the reader how the culture of the time period was changing. With that being said, there was a slight shift between relying on manual labor and technologys assistance. At the same time, it is depicting the disadvantage between the higher class and the lower class. Since the upper class acquired the knowledge of technologys advancements, it left the lower class completely oblivious.
Not only was the culture of this time period depicted throughout the novel, but so was politics. For instance, Steinbeck states, A million acres? What in the world can he do with a million acres? During this crisis, many individuals would have supported this question. Notably, there was a huge gap between the social classes during this time period. Steinbeck was voicing for the thousands of Americans, who also believed there should have been a fairer distribution of land to all individuals. The Grapes of Wrath was proclaiming that the government should not focus merely on society as a whole, but more centered around the conditions of the time period and what was needed to mend the era. Steinbeck was not insisting that the government needed to shift towards socialism, but that the government needed to govern more by reason to alleviate the problems of the people. Thus, depicting the politics during the era and how they were thought to be unjust and prolonging the issues at hand.
In addition, another contributing factor to politics during this time period, was the rise of anti-capitalism. Capitalism is merely a system with the reliance on corporately owned profits, not managed by the government. To demonstrate the sense of anti-capitalism of the time period. Steinbeck stated, Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. This was stated during the section where the Joads family lost their farm to the landlords when they were not able to pay for their land. Capitalism at the time, could have been considered as a means of a Trap against humanity. 8Thus, Capitalism forced the landlords do something they felt guilty of doing, yet if they did not follow though, they would be jeopardizing their own income. With that being said, The Grapes of Wrath depicts the politics of the time period through anti-capitalism scenarios and the inhumane nature of Capitalism.
Due to the deprivation during the Great Depression, many people decreased their need to be generous. Society as a whole, felt torn between their instinct to help others in need and to help themselves. Nearing the end of the novel, Steinbeck illustrates an unforgettable scene, in which Rose of Sharon delivers her stillborn baby and then finds it in her heart to breast feed a dying man.9 During this scene, Steinbeck was trying to captivate the struggle between humanitys instincts. That being, the instinct to do what is morally right and the instinct to help yourself rise. For example, Rose of Sharon had the necessary nutrients, that could ultimately change this mans situation, so she chose to do what she thought was morally right. This could be applied to many situations during the Great Depression, between landowners and tenants or between the rich and poor.
All things considered, John Steinbeck wrote a captivating novel that depicted the true essence of the Great Depression. His accumulation of integrating culture, politics, and society during this era acts as voice to the thousands of Americans who had undergone this unforgiving time period. He drew attention to the obvious contrast between the reality of the time and the American Dream, which contributed to the culture of the time period. Even so, Steinbeck bought awareness to the unjust politics and the trend of anti-capitalism of the Great Depression. There is no question as to how The Grapes of Wrath left a remarkable impression worldwide.
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