The Grapes of Wrath
In some ways The Grapes of Wrath is a travel book. In its pages we are taken on a
2000-mile journey from eastern Oklahoma to central California. If you look at a highway
map of the Southwest, you can follow the Joads' progress from place to place. Accuracy was important to Steinbeck because he hoped that his book would be more than a piece
of fiction; it is meant to be a social document, too.
Because the main characters are sharecroppers turned into migrants, most of the book
takes place out-of-doors. So the weather, the land and water, and the road are as
important to the novel as almost any character or theme.
The coming of a long drought to America's midsection in the 1930s sets the book into
motion. Farmers can't survive on dried-out land. Nor can the banks that own the
land make a profit when the tenant farmers don't grow enough to feed even themselves.
In contrast to the parched Dust Bowl, California is fertile and lush. Its orchards
and fields grow fruit, nuts, cotton, and vegetables of every sort. It's the Promised
Land, the land of milk and honey. It's paradise, except for the people trying madly
to keep the migrants at bay. For hundreds of thousands of migrants, including the Joads,
of course, California turns out to be a lost paradise.
To be fair, you can't blame only the citizens of California for the migrants' plight.
The rains and subsequent floods contribute, too.
The migrant road- Route 66- links Oklahoma to California. Along its miles we
see the filling stations, diners, and car lots that line many of America's highways
even today. These sites remind us of what our country looks like and repeatedly
tell the migrants that they are not wanted- unless they have money.
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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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