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Marxist Reading of "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck

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“The Grapes of Wrath” is still of the classics of American literature. This work remains banned in many school libraries across the nation because some critics

said it contains full of lies of American life in that period and highly pro-communist. It is because Steinbeck created the work because of showing difficulties of many Americans who had The Great Depression and The Dust Owl. Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” can be discussed by many critical theories but Marxist criticism which I will be discussing here is the one of the most common lenses through which to read the novel. This is because Steinbeck’s narrative shows the exact problems that a capitalist society describes working class people. We will read/discuss the work to see how the author makes a Marxist argument in his work. During The Dust Owl in the history of America, large parts of the American Midwest, much of Oklahoma, to be more precise, were heavily affected by a continues span of drought and high winds. The hope to find a land for making a living forced people out of their homes in the lower Midwest. This novel was written in the final stage of the Great Depression. The Joad family like others will head west to find work and a better life in California. The key figure in the novel is Tom regardless of what he does during the novel and turns out to be a criminal. However, breaking the law does not always mean the person was not right to take some actions at that particular point, hence the Tom whose actions as a matter of fact appear to be just. On the way to California, he meets an ex-preacher named Jim Casy who denies the religion.

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According to Karl Marx “religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions”. Marxist critics consider religion to be opium for the nation. That’s why Jim ignores his previous position and joins to Tom on the journey.

Steinbeck’s work supports capitalist values. Because when the Joads arrive in California, they witness that the landowners do everything in their power to keep the migrants poor and dependent on them. The migrants who have travelled long distances to reach California are not quite willing to put up with a competition for the jobs which in most of the case do not exist. Most employers have understood that the best way to keep everything in order among the workers is not to let the workers get better-off so that employers take their time organize, and so salaries for a day cannot sustain even one little family one day and night. Moreover, one day Tom notices this occasion as if the family is trying to get landowners to treat workers fairly but Tom sneaks out one night to find why they are picketing.In fact, Capitalism is economic system in which the market is controlled by private institutions instead of the government. The farmers in the novel have worked the land they have inhabited for decades, do not own the property, even they leave their farms later on. Also they have no choice of selling a home, and though they move to California with the positive thinking of finding money so they are able to own a home, in the end they are still living in workers’ camps. This is especially important to a Marxist critic, as the Joads live in a camp, are homeless, while working for wealthy land owners who have secured wealth by paying their workers unlivable wages.

The workers receive less money for long hours from their employers; the landowners show dishonesty to their workers and hardly pay them. This relationship between the Joads and the owners is what a Marxist critic would call the socioeconomic relationship between the bourgeoisie which is the haves, and the proletariat which is the have-nots. So in the Grapes of Wrath landowners represent the bourgeoisie and the Joads represent proletariats. For Steinbeck, the bourgeoisie are guilty of inhumanity because of their treatment of the proletariats. John Steinbeck works with a lot of different themes in this novel, but the issue of poverty and how capitalism contributes to it, is by far one of the most important aspects of book. The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1939. Poverty was a lot, and like many people, farmers in the dust bowl lost their land, homes, and ways of earning money. Steinbeck’s novel depicts the experiences of just such farmers, from the loss of their land and bulldozed houses (bulldozer is type of machine), to a move across country in search of a better way of living and providing for themselves and their families. In the The Grapes of Wrath, I will follow the farming families as they move across Oklahoma to California, and observe them living in various squatter’s camps in California, always on the looking for work and ways to improve their lives because that is what people living under the rules of capitalism must do to survive in that period. Capitalism is dependent upon a free market, and privately owned businesses.

In The Grapes of Wrath, we see how capitalism costs the Joads their farm when they are unable to produce crops due to the drought. They cannot pay what they owe for their land nor the renters what they owe for the house and. Steinbeck is criticizing the economic system that drove farmers to homelessness and hard poverty. He is also critical of this capitalist economic system because, in addition to destroying farmers. Both the owners and the residents are trapped: if farmers do not earn payment for their crops, then they cannot pay their leases, and if leases are not paid, owners are unable to pay what they owe the banks or sustain their own economic situations. This is exactly one of socioeconomic conditions of Marxism. When we are first introduced to Jim Casy, the former preacher, we learn that he has been facing an internal struggle. He enjoyed being a preacher and was pretty good at it, but he felt like a pretender. He argues with himself about his beliefs, then decides it is best to leave the church. He is also an example of organized religion of Marxism. Tom Joad is another character that struggles in his inside. He has just released from the prison on special purpose for killing a man in self-defense.

As part of his situation, he is unable to leave the state. When he realizes that his whole family is leaving and that there is nothing left for him in Oklahoma, he decides to break his situation even if it could mean more time in prison. Tom stops deciding that the right thing to do is to stay with his family and try to stay out of trouble. The Grapes of Wrath portraits the fate of two similar “families”: the Joads and a group of migrants who go through similar difficulties over the course of the novel. What we see of migrant way of living depicted in the book, the family with no home to precisely define its borders, is quickly left behind, as life on the road requests that new connections. In the novel we can witness the moment when the Joads meet Wilsons. Not much after, these two groups of people get into one, functioning as one body, feeling each other’s grief and assisting each other’s attempts for survival. Lastly, the most famous image in The Grapes of Wrath is the novel’s final one, in which Rose of Sharon Joad, whose baby was recently stillborn, breast-feeds a sickly, starving man on the floor of an old barn. In this image, Steinbeck powerfully dramatizes the desperate and difficult situation of Depression-era migrant workers, whom the author felt had been left by society.

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