The 100 Best Novels: No 65 – the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


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Police harassing helpless tenant farmers. Tractors razing houses to the ground. Overworked employees and their loved ones struggling to avoid starvation. As the Joads and many other families travel across the country to California in search of economic prosperity, they face many hardships. Roosevelt said that “the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.’ Even though the president of the time believed we needed to assist those struggling from the depression, many of those in need were treated cruelly.

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath demonstrates the injustices committed against American farmers during the Great Depression. At the beginning of the novel, Tom comes home to see his house deserted. His family was evicted by a company that owned a vast amount of land during a time of hardship throughout the country. They are forced to live with “Uncle John” until they earn enough money to travel to California. While the family works to earn enough money for a car to travel to California, a tractor comes and razes their home to the ground. Even though the land was theirs for the taking, it was unjust to force tenant farmers off the land on which they had raised their families. These American farmers, already struggling from the Dust Bowl, were forced to evacuate their homeland in search of employment. During the Dust Bowl, groves of unemployed farmers migrated to California to find jobs. Because there was an overabundance of migrants and limited jobs, the wages were extremely unfair. Most migrant workers made less than two or three dollars a day. As jobs became a rarity throughout the American southwest, families ran out of options and were forced to stay in camps. These camps were drowning with starving families.

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When work was available the workers had no choice but to take the jobs. These jobs were not stable income because the employers could fire employees or lower their wages at any time. Law enforcement was another major cause of injustice in the novel. While the Joads were staying at camps in California, they discovered that many police officers were corrupt. The police would always side with the rich landowners. This meant that the police often were negligent toward the migrants. These migrants, such as the Joads, were often referred to as “Okies,” which was a derogatory term for Oklahoma natives that were forced to leave during the Dust Bowl. In February of 1936, 125 police officers were sent to the borders of California to keep our the “undesirables” or “Okies”. This xenophobia toward the Okies allowed police to get away with horrendous acts against them. The police used extreme methods, such as burning down camps, in order to separate those on their “blacklist” who were suspected of forming unions.In The Grapes of Wrath there are numerous examples of injustice toward the migrant farmers. The Joads as well as other “Okies” were victims of xenophobia throughout what they thought was a land of great opportunity and economic prosperity. The actions taken by the wealthy companies and landowners, as well as law enforcement, made these already suffering migrant farmers lives much harder.

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