Photo by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression, 1936. Depicting the plight of the workers,
and the injustice of being uprooted from the only life they knew…
“The driver sat in his iron seat and he was proud of the straight lines he did not will, proud of the tractor he did not own or love, proud of the power he could not own. And when that crop grew, and was harvested, no man had crumbled a hot clod in his fingers and let the earth sift past his fingertips. No man had touched the seed, or lusted for the growth. Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses.” – Chapter 5, p.38
‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is a powerful novel set during the Great Depression, when famine, poverty and changes in agriculture caused thousands of farming families to migrate from Oklahoma to California. The novel tells of the hardships of the Joad family, and their paper-thin hope of a better life in California. This bleak story takes the reader on a journey that spirals deeper and deeper into disappointment and hopelessness. Steinbeck’s novel is an illuminating and vivid account of the people of the dustbowl and tells the painful truth about the class divide that caused so many of them to die of hunger. The novel won the Pulitzer prize in 1940 and was highly praised by President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor despite being vilified by politicians and Californian officials. It was even publicly banned and burned by citizen’s because it was seen as ‘communist propaganda’.
Steinbeck travelled widely and observed the migration first-hand to get a true understanding of what was really happening during the Great Depression. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is unique and timeless because it steers the focus away from the political scene. Instead Steinbeck writes from the perspective of the migrants, showing us the human face of the suffering, not the statistics and reports.
The novel is not only a portrayal of the US government’s betrayal of its people, but is also a commentary on the many different ways humanity subsequently became divorced from mother nature.