Steinbeck’s relationship to the transcendentalists [Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman] was pointed out soon after The Grapes of Wrath appeared by Frederick I. Carpenter, and as the thirties fade into history, Jim Casy with his idea of the holiness of all men and the unreality of sin seems less a product of his own narrowly doctrinaire age than a latter-day wanderer from the green village of Concord to the dry plains of the West.
Although Steinbeck argues for collective action to achieve specific goals, only the most unperceptive critics continue to argue that he is a collectivist in either philosophy or politics. Throughout his work he decries the mindless indoctrination of the totalitarians and maintains that only through reflection upon his bitter experience can learn the value of acting in concert with others for the relief of emergency conditions — like the flood at the end of The Grapes of Wrath — so that the individual may subsequently be free to realize his own potentialities. Nothing better illustrates Steinbeck’s concept of social organization than the pictures in Chapter Seventeen of The Grapes of Wrath of the world that is created each night a people come together, and disappears the next morning when they separate.
In reference to the government camps in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck never suggests that these camps should offer more than temporary relief during emergencies; he never suggests that the government should provide work for the people. We must recall, too, the camp manager’s comment that the people in the camp had taken his job away from him by assuming responsibilities for self-government. Steinbeck’s approval …
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… the question: How can any form of government avoid playing a continual role in the shaping of people’s lives, whether directly or indirectly?
Simply to prove that Steinbeck was not a socialist, a rather easy task these days thanks to the work of Steinbeck scholars in the 60s and 70s, does not mean that he was a conservative bastion of American individualism and an opponent of “big government.” Such a portrait of Steinbeck is as inaccurate as the socialist portrait French and Lisca exposed.
French, Warren. A Companion to The Grapes of Wrath. New York: The Viking Press, 1963.
Hawgood, John A. America’s Western Frontiers. New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1967.
Jones, Evan. The Plains States. New York: Time Life Books, 1968.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: The Sun Dial Press, 1939.
Grapes of Wrath Essay: Prejudice Against Immigrants Exposed
The Grapes of Wrath: The Californians Prejudice Against Immigrants
Prejudice is a strong word. It is the kind of word that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. One of Steinbeck’s themes in the novel, The Grapes of Wrath, is the prejudice against the migrant workers by the financially established Californians. Steinbeck provides four clear examples of prejudice; the man whose children died of starvation, the fishing story, the California police officer and the history of the Californians.
On the way to California, the Joad’s encountered other people that had already been to California and were now returning. One of these encounters, with the ragged man with the sunburned face, is described on page 242. The ragged man had children that died because wages were too low and work was too scarce to afford food for his children and wife. His story was one of pain and despair and was evidence of the cruel and inhumane treatment which resulted from the California farmers prejudice towards the migrant workers.
Later, the Joads stop by a river where Tom and his Father find a spot to go swimming. Two men, a man and his son, who asked if they might also join them in swimming, promptly join them. The men start talking and it turns out that the other two men have just come from California. They tell a story describing the conditions as very unsafe and uncomfortable and mention the prejudice against the workers. Subsequently the Joads paid no head to this warning either. Hence, they traveled on, only to meet up with a very dispassionate police officer.
The police officer gave the Joads a first hand experience of the prejudice that Californians had against the migrant workers. The policeman treated the migrants with no respect. This officer, who undoubtedly had taken an oath to uphold the law and promote the public good, would have been more happy see the Joads drop off the face of the earth than see them in California.
The Corollary chapter Nineteen deals with the history of California. How it was settled by the feverish Americans. Through these descriptions we can start to understand the Californians prejudice against the migrant workers. The chapter describes the initial owners of the land, the Mexicans, as being “weak and fed”. This description would suggest that the Mexican’s were like well fed livestock.