Making Sense of the Myths

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Throughout this reading, I was confused as to what the myth of the garden was. I think the garden is meant to reflect Eden, but I'm not sure what the myth behind it is. Is it that America is Eden or that that is just the American Dream and, therefore, American Dream=(America is Eden)?

That would make sense if the westerners moved to the west because they thought anything can happen in America and the country is big enough (plentiful enough) for everyone. That would be supported by this passage: "Parallel visions of world dominance and transcendental bonding with nature created a unique blend of ideologies which sought to simultaneously sustain an extractive economy and an unspoiled, untrammeled frontier."

I think the America Dream = America is Eden is what the myth of the garden is because Cassuto later says, " America offered a new beginning wherein land and settler could merge into a single corporate entity and recover, through diligence, husbandry, and mettle, the lost paradise of Eden."

But, as I was searching for a thesis, I found in the beginning, " ...The Grapes of Wrath represents an indictment of the American myth of the garden and its accompanying myth of the frontier." I think this is the thesis (but that is a whole other journal entry), but what is the myth of the frontier?

I think what is said above better supports an idea of the myth of the frontier than a myth of the garden unless the myth of the frontier is this: " ...by the 1920s, the frontier was closed and Americans had bought solidly into the notion that technology and God would see to it that the Great Plains became the agricultural capital of the world.

Cassuto also has a quick answer: "The frontier myth posited that land in the West was uninhabited by anybody with legal rights and that the strength of the nation lay in its boundless and unsettled western frontier. The myth of the garden held that the land would yield bountiful harvests to any American willing to work it."

Another question: What exactly is he arguing? In part one, he seems to be arguing that people during the Dust Bowl were stupid and everything could have been avoided if they just had a little more intelligence and were willing to let go of the myths.

But, the title of the article and discussion at the end of part one/start of part two seems to be about water and its symbolization throughout the story/the real Dust Bowl. Is the thesis: Water in The Grapes of Wrath is important symbolically and literally? (Because that just seems too obvious). Or is part one just setting up (background info) for the real point?

My last question: What is yeoman/yeoman ideals? To be one with the land? To work the land? To make themselves from nothing to something?

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2 Comments

Yes, the myth of the garden refers to Eden, and more specifically to the state of innocence and perfection in which humans lived, before sin entered into the picture and fragmented the order that God created.

The "Yeoman Ideal" is the argument that individual land ownership is the solution to society's problems, rather than large-scale corporate or collective farming. It's an ideal because in fact, the large-scale corporate farming drives the cost of food down so much that it feeds huge cities; individual communities of small farmers wouldn't be able to supply the needs of cities with millions of people, because it would be very inefficient for those small farmers to drive their goods into the cities and sell them there. No small farmer can produce enough apples, for example, to supply New York, and New York merchants want a large, steady supply of one kind of apple, rather than have to negotiate with each individual farmer for an individual truckload of apples that might be wormy, mealy, or an unusual flavor. So Cassuto is here alluding to weaknesses in the economic model that Steinbeck presents as ideal.

Alyssa Sanow said:

I agree with you on the identification of the thesis, but found in my reading that the support for this thesis was often lost among historical references and explanation. I was surprised also that the thesis began with "I will argue..." Though this makes identifying the thesis simple, it makes the author seem simple as well. Overall I found the essay disappointing as if Cassuto was trying to hard to make his point, and missed the mark altogether.

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