With alternating chapters of the Joad Family’s misfortunes and intercalary chapters of overall observation, Steinbeck crafts a bitter and delineated testament of the Great Depression.
Capitalism is cited as one of the intrinsic contributors to the Depression, an economy operating in favor of private ownership for profit led to severe tribulation. For example, farmers in the 1930s became cognizant of California’s farmland being extensively controlled by agrarian monopolies, hence they were unable to profit from an independent agricultural lifestyle. The most optimistic member of the Joad family, Ma Joad, urges that the handbill she read which advertised work was accurate and that California will be a wonderful place. This proves to be only a figment of illusion, the Joad family discovers that farms are privately owned and the mass migration of people towards California led to a surfeit of labor and consequently, scarcity of jobs and lowering of wages for all workers. Through their hindrances, Steinbeck also emblematizes the deficient labour practices in rural areas. The labour camps in California urged the contemplation of rural labour systems and consideration of customs, laws and labour unions to protect rural workers.
. In fact, in 1931, a building contractor from Minneapolis wrote a letter to President Hoover warning, “There is not five % of the poverty your enemies would like you to believe, in three cases out of four the unemployed is looking for a very light job at a very heavy pay”. The novel’s slight frailty lies in that it fails to provide these perspectives in depth; economic conditions and its aftermath on different classes of people in various areas are seldom described. . Historian David M Kennedy, professor emeritus at Stanford University, had written, ” In a culture that ascribed all success to individual striving, it seemed to follow axiomatically that failure was due to individual inadequacy”. However, outrage against the ravages of banks and the government also existed in the form of demonstrations.
Steinbeck succeeds in portraying both polar reactions. He clearly shows the sullen spirit of Pa Joad when he goes to sell some of the family’s possessions and returns discouraged, blaming himself for having earned merely eighteen dollars. In contrast, he also shows farmers denouncing institutions such as banks by referring to them as “monsters”. Moreover, Pa’s self esteem erodes and he secludes himself from his family and responsibilities, forcing Ma to adopt a dominant role.
This is testimony of another social change that had started to elicit during the depression, women now saw their role in the household enhanced. With the breadwinner of the family surrendering to frustration and dismay, women became more absorbed fulfilling household tasks using scant resources to keep the family nourished and intact. The Great Depression’s major paradox was the faith of certain white Americans in their own nation. Steinbeck centralizes this theme of social prejudice, as the Joads are asked to evacuate their land by banks and then later on suffer from exploitation and discrimination by the California farmers. However, historian Frank J.
Taylor, in his essay “California’s Grapes of Wrath”, criticizes Steinbeck’s pitiless depiction of Californian farmers by noting that the nature of the agricultural industry demands that crops be harvested within precise timing. Thus, when the fruit needs to be picked, considerable number or workers are needed but left jobless after. In addition, the overflowing of migrants from Oklahoma, referred to as Okies, burdened Californian civilians who already had their own challenges. Taylor offers a logical vindication and Steinbeck perhaps has slightly over sympathised with the migrants. However, the Okies were still mistreated, thus it would be incorrect to rebuke the novel’s claims of having absolutely no merit. Nevertheless, what the novel does bypass is the injustice other groups had encountered. In the North, some white Americans espoused for blacks to be fired because so many whites were unemployed, and in general, most blacks were the last hired and first fired.
The economic skepticism conceivably intensified racist attitudes and often, the turbulence of society had a greater catastrophic repercussion on the black populace. Indeed, the experience of one fictional farmer family conforms to the social landscape of the Depression, but references to diverse groups and their circumstances would make that representation more inclusive. Arguably, part of the Great Depression was catalyzed due to rudimentary weaknesses in the political system. A cogent example being that during times of scarcity, there were no social agencies or welfare departments. Furthermore, President Hoover believed that the government should have limited leverage on businesses for the economy to flourish. These constituents are critical in understanding how policies contributed to the circumstances of the Great Depression. Although Steinbeck accuses people in power, he does seem to suggest the pitfalls of the overall system when a farmer blames bankers for his miseries but a man on the tractor responds, “Maybe there’s nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn’t men at all.
” This alludes that the condemnation for the predicament of the Depression cannot be directed towards any single group–rather it is the system that is the culprit. The novel does not provide a thorough insight of political affairs; thus it cannot be relied on too extensively for an understanding of politics during the entirety of the Great Depression. Since the plot concludes in March 1931, many important political events which ensued are excluded, such as Roosevelt’s presidency and the experimental policies he introduced. Prior to the Great Depression, the government initiated minimal involvement during business failures, as it relied on private markets to make the necessary rectifications.
Roosevelt’s reforms in the New Deal, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Securities and Exchange Commission, were attempts to prevent the abuses that had led to the 1929 crash. Although Roosevelt’s actions did not solve all the complications of the Depression, his pioneering initiatives along with the agonizing conditions of the Depression eventually encouraged some primitive modifications. The government assumed greater involvement in ensuring economic stability. The Grapes of Wrath overall exposes these detriments that had existed, portraying how the Joads suffered serious degrees of poverty due to weak administrations such as deprivation of welfare support and an unregulated labor system. There is little hindsight of the political events, but Steinbeck provides an overall understanding of the tensions that would precipitate the reformation of policies.
This does not impair my scope in pursuing the investigation too greatly, as the Dust Bowl migration ultimately epitomizes the economic, political and social adversity of the decade.