Themes and Style of the Writings of John Steinbeck

June 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

John Steinbeck’s novels The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men enable readers to capture a glimpse of the time of the Great Depression in the United States. In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family of Oklahoma, accompanied by thousands of other farming families, travels across America to chase a dream that lies in California. Their dream is to attain jobs and prosper off of their own land once again. However, they find only disappointments in California, with all of the work already taken and the poverty just as severe as it was in Oklahoma. In Of Mice and Men, the two main characters, George and Lennie, build a powerful friendship as they migrate to California for work. Out of love and compassion, George devotes himself to protecting Lennie from their hardhearted society, as Lennie suffers from a mental handicap and often finds himself in trouble. Although the novels are organized in different stylistic forms, Steinbeck uses the themes of pursuing the American dream, developing compassion for others, the importance of unification, and the mass hardship and suffering in life in both The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.In both novels, the theme of the American dream is present. In the heart of the Great Depression, Steinbeck’s characters have hope and confidence that they will reach California’s wealth and opportunities, but they are never able to attain what they envisioned. They dream to someday make a profit of their own, but the reality is that the long journey to reach one’s dream is most often unrewarded in the end. In Of Mice and Men, when Crooks, the African-American stable buck, was left in the quarters with Lennie, Lennie told him about his fantasy of moving to California and building a farm with George. Crooks sees that in actuality, “every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. … Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody gets no land. It’s just in their head” (Mice 81). Like in Of Mice and Men, the dreams of the farmers in The Grapes of Wrath were distant and implausible to achieve, however, the farmers never gave up on their dream to reach the west. As their hope to accomplish their goal diminished, the dream of living a perfect farmer’s life in California also disappeared.Another common theme in Steinbeck’s two novels is the power and importance of unity. In The Grapes of Wrath, the government and banks stripped the families of their land, food, and other possessions and forced them into a deep state of poverty. The farmers quickly realized that they were powerless when they worked individually to fight the system that held them back. Although they still struggled as they worked together, the people found their tasks less agonizing when their discomfort was shared, and so they banded together and journeyed westward. Unification was very important in keeping the family strong. Whenever one family member gave up on the group, the entire family faced conflicts between each other. Although they continued on with their journey after a member withdrew or had to be left behind, the family struggled to get back on track. If they didn’t have each other to inspire and motivate one another — particularly Ma, who always kept the family moving together — then they all would have suffered much more than they essentially did. Ma held the group together through her dominant role as head of the family. She was always the member to gather the family together after a loss when the rest lost their hope. Like in The Grapes of Wrath, the characters in Of Mice and Men, specifically George and Lennie, choose to unite to overcome society’s cruelty. Lennie, who suffered from a mild form of retardation, recognized the significance of having George in his life when he said, “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why” (Mice 15). Lennie shows that no matter what life challenges them with, he and George will always support one another because they need each other.In both works, Steinbeck portrays the theme of compassion in human nature, as the characters frequently make sacrifices for one another. Amongst the many relationships in The Grapes of Wrath, whether family bonds, friendships, or mere acquaintanceships, compassion ties the characters together. Oftentimes, the compassion is shown through sacrifice, which makes the relationships even stronger. Compassion and love for one another mean that an individual must look past the differences in others and find the things they have in common to join together. They must also put one another’s necessities in front of his or her own and consider the common benefit rather than pure self-benefit. For example, when Ma forfeits part of her family’s stew for the children in the camp, she becomes greatly selfless for those who appeared desperate for care. She explained to an upset woman, “S’pose you was cookin’ a stew an’ a bunch of little fellas stood aroun’ moonin’, what’d you do? We didn’t have enough, but you can’t keep it when they look at ya like that” (Grapes 333). Out of compassion for the hungry children, Ma’s motherly instinct told her to help them, even if it meant she would have to sacrifice her own limited food supply. Likewise, in Of Mice and Men, George sympathizes with Lennie by choosing to help Lennie rather than leave him vulnerable to the unkindness in society. When George shoots Lennie in the head before the lynch mob comes to torment him, he shows compassion for Lennie’s well-being in the future. If George had allowed the mob to take him away, Lennie would have been lost by himself in society without George, and he would have found himself in more trouble. By shooting him, George quickly ends the pain for his best friend. However, he sacrifices the life of a loved one, a dilemma he must handle emotionally. This sacrifice made by George shows great compassion for Lennie’s feelings and great bravery for having the ability to do something so traumatizing.In both novels, Steinbeck conveys the theme of suffering and living through severe hardship. In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family, along with several thousand other impoverished farming families, suffered the most from being manipulated and taken advantage of by the government. As the government and banks became more greedy and authoritative over the farmers, the farmers were pushed further into extreme poverty. The farmers resorted to whatever they could come by to survive through the hunger, pain, and anguish. The farmers began observing that, “in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and… growing heavy for the vintage” (Grapes 449). Steinbeck expresses that as the people are repeatedly abused by the bank’s power, they will eventually grow tired of taking the maltreatment, and they will desire a change. Their tolerance grows thin as the grapes get heavier, metaphorically. The heavy grapes symbolize the burden the government workers put on the farmers through their greediness. Soon enough the grapes will be ready to be picked for the vintage; soon enough, the farmers will be ready for a revolution. In Of Mice and Men, Lennie is repetitively tormented by his disability. Due to his compulsion for petting soft objects, he likes to carry around animals such as mice and puppies, whether they are dead or alive. He constantly finds himself in trouble because he does not know his own strength, and he kills several animals unintentionally. Lennie even killed Curley’s wife, who allowed him to feel her soft hair. Ultimately, this hardship led to Lennie’s downfall in the end, when the mob chased him for killing Curley’s wife.In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s style and format is exceptionally distinct. He uses the intercalary chapter format throughout the book, alternating between an observation of society as a whole and a detailed description of the Joad family’s quest to the west. The intercalary style of this book is effective in explaining the context of the story of the Joad family. As the family treks across America, they are conflicted by the woes of the Great Depression. The broad chapters in the novel provide a background and an evaluation of the rest of the farmers and government through symbolism and metaphors. However, this style may be unappealing for some readers, as it greatly extends the length of the story and turns the reading into a seemingly daunting task to complete. Steinbeck also uses Oklahoman dialect in the dialogue of the characters to emphasize the setting and time period. Tom encountered an Oklahoman man in California, who warned him, “Okie use’ ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you’re a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you’re a scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it” (Grapes 264-265). This man shows Tom that “Okie” is just a word, but the way the Californians say it puts an offensive connotation behind the word. The man also speaks in a Southern dialect to emphasize the offense in the term “Okie” because he is an “Okie” as well.In Of Mice and Men, the stylistic format used is different from the other book in many ways. This novel is a story told chronologically about George and Lennie, two friends who depend on one another to survive the brutality during the Great Depression. The novel is a relatively short story in comparison to The Grapes of Wrath because it focuses on only the experiences of George and Lennie in a small time period. The dialogue in this book is effective in telling the story because it creates a more personal perspective for the reader. By telling the story from the characters’ points of view, the connection between the author’s message and the story is more precise. The author accurately shows the characters’ feelings, thoughts, and interactions between one another through their dialogue instead of often being ambiguous through narrations. When George tells Lennie, “Don’t let him pull you in – but — if the son-of-a-bitch socks you — let ’im have it,” (Mice 33) it directly shows George’s proud yet vengeful attitude. George looks out for Lennie and guides him through the conflict with Curley. This is directly shown through his dialogue, whereas the alternative would have been more ambiguous, indirect, and lengthy.Although they have very different stylistic formats, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men have several similar themes. The theme of pursuing the American Dream is present in both books, although they all suffer through the destitution of living in the Great Depression. Throughout the relationships between the characters, unity is especially important, as well as compassion for one another. In the 1930s, farmers were repressed by the banks and the government. The two novels reflect upon people’s ability to unite and their strength upon doing so. The citizens, in mass numbers, have the potential to overrule corruption in the government and in banks, but the power of the people is rarely used with such intentions. If each person recognized “that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed” (Grapes 306), then governments would no longer be so controlling in people’s lives. Steinbeck portrays that the government’s attempts to keep the people repressed only unite everyone with a common interest: being freed from repression. People also overlook their capability to resolve issues; many believe they are not influential enough, but in reality, working together is the most effective form of opposition to the government. Today, several conflicts in society could easily be fixed if every individual worked together to fix them. However, most often, people continue in their own paths, and they are not willing to work together until the situation becomes an absolute crisis.

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