The author does a good job of explaining how the myths of the frontier and the "Garden of Eden" were bestowed upon the nation well into the dust bowl era. The idealology that lead to this point in history from the American standpoint and how Steinbeck mocks these ideas in relating to water in "The Grapes of Wrath" are well explained throughout the article.
The author explains how these myths caused the inevitable and unavoidable failure that the "Okies" would have to endure due to the lack of rainfall in a region that was asked to supply grain to an entire country. Whenever the Joads are driven from their lands by the capitalist banks, the Joads engaged in picking cotton. The Joads were contributing to the capitalist-based system that lead to the death of their lands, but the banks had the means to better thrive.
"Mining the land of nutrients and leaving it for dead demonstrates a new, production-oriented allegiance to the frontier myth. Treating the nation's breadbasket as an expendable resource necessarily assumes an infinte resource reservoir from which to replace it" (Cassuto, 78). Assuming that the west has an infinite supply of natural resources allows the plains to be expendable. The fact that the western region of the country was arid and could not support agriculture in the way the plains could (if the nutrients in the soil were rotated properly) was not accounted for by the government during these times.
".. the underlying motivation for both the Okies' behavior and that of the agribusiness concerns can ultimately be analyzed in hydrological terms" (Cassuto, 80) I found it interesting that the author tied the Dust Bowl to being caused by the Great Depression and poor agriculture management. These ideas show why what was a common drought caused the Joads and other farmers of the region to be succumbed by the new mechanized version of farming. The Joads then continue west chasing the frontier myth, and vast uninhabited lands eventually push them into California chasing work. The flooding Steinbeck uses at the climax of the story illustrates a very ironic focus on water at the end of the novel. The Joads, now disconnected with the land and their need for water, see the flood as a disaster.
Here is the list I have compiled from the blogging done up to this point in American Literature: 1915-Present. Initially, I was a little lost, but eventually I learned what the blogging system was all about. Here are the blogs I have posted that are worth adding to a portfolio showing my ability to close read.
Chapter 21 describes how the "Okies" arrival was driving the prices down, and eventually there would be indentured servants on the land. The large owners continued sending out handbills to attract more migrants, even though there was not any real work. The large owners drove out the smaller businesses, and more and more people were starved. Steinbeck makes it clear that, "The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line" (Steinbeck 388). Steinbeck clearly begins to suggest a revolution theme. The Farmers' Association drops the wages in Weedpatch, and government camps like these are frowned upon by the elite groups. The banks controlled the Farmers' Association, and the Farmers' Association controlled the police that constantly harass and intimidate the migrants. Although this foreshadows revolution, none ever occurs, and hardships continue for the Joad's and other migrants. Steinbeck illustrates that there is hope even through many hardships, as Rose of Sharon, even at just losing her baby through stillbirth, helps a starving man in a barn. "He's dyin', I tell you! He's starvin' to death, I tell you" (Steinbeck 618). Once one of the more self centered characters, Rose of Sharon displays an act of selflessness, reinforcing hope even during dire times.
When Wilson was describing his car troubles to the Joad family, Al explains,"I think you got a plugged gas line. I'll blow her out for ya" (Steinbeck 200). Shortly after, Tom suggests that since the Wilson's car had extra room, they could split their loads and more effectively travel together to California. Al can use his mechanical expertise to keep the car running, while the Wilson's car can transport some of the Joad family remove some of the stress on the Joad truck. This is the first example in the novel of the working class forming to address collective interests. Chapter 17 is dedicated to descring the formation of camps by the migrant farmers. They all become one family, and respect one another. Every one is equal, and the closest thing to a ruling class is the elderly members, because they have knowledge and experience. It is interesting how Steinbeck illistrates an almost Marixist society. During their nightly gatherings, the families are free from the restraints of the banks and corporations.
In chapters 19 and 20 of How To Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster describes the significance of geography and seasons in a fictional novel. Foster describes the deaths of a leopard and the writer in the book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. In the case of the leopard dieing on the mountain, the death is clean, but the writer suffers and gruesome death resulting from gangrene on the plains. Then, in the novel Women in Love, Foster describes a writers alternate view of environments. The mountains symbolize death and destruction in this case. I find it interesting that, although seasons and climates and geographies do mean something, the intent of these things differ from writer to writer, reader to reader. It is important to consider the origins of a writer when determining how the person feels about certian landscapes or times of the year. The same is true for readers. Someone from Pennsylvania may not understand the poetry of an author talking fondly about the open plains of the midwest. The hills of Pennsylvania may be comforting to someone born in Pennsylvania, while the vast plains may be a lonely or boring landscape. Likewise, if the midwesterner came to Pennsylvania, the hills may be intimidating, or almost suffocating in a way.
On page 171, Foster states, "...When writers send characters south, it's so they can run amok."
Could this be because, as Foster does mention, a lot of these authors are european. The sun has a different type of appeal in this region, because they are used to mild summers and longer winters. I do not know if I think that sending a character south always allows them to run amok. Anywhere a character goes that is not home, they are bound to explore new landscapes, possibilities, and even ideas. Otherwise, why would an author bother to send a character in the first place. A lot of the trips south by european characters may result in a sort of run amok style story, but do all stories where the characters move south require the characters to engage in wild activities? I find that hard to believe. Maybe sometimes characters move south and find peace and harmony.
In chapter 5, Steinbeck so delicately explains, "The man sitting in the iron seat did not look like a man; gloved, goggled, rubber dust mask over nose and moth, he was a part of the monster, a robot in the seat."
The driver of the huge tractor felt no connection with his work. He did not feel the satisfaction of watching his crops grow and enjoy the fruits of his hard labor. The driver is explained as just an extension of the machine he is driving, and the tractor is just an extension of the larger monster, the banks and corporations. There is an utter coldness, a total lack of emotions, present in this chapter. The chapter is almost too cold to feel sadness or loneliness.
A local man asks, "Well, what are you doing this kind of work for- against your own people?"
"Three dollars a day," the driver replies.
In a way, the driver is in fact another extension of the greater monster. The driver may actually be worse than the banks as he has personal ties to the lives he is destroying. People as a whole sometimes do not care about what happens to others, as long as they are safe and secure. The driver will more than likely continue putting his growing behind in that seat, plowing the fields in his huge tractor until he grows to old. At the same time, the men he grew up with will likely starve.
On page 87, Steinbeck explains through the narration of an imaginary car salesman, "Now, look here. I'm givin' you my shirt, an' you took all this time. I might a made three sales while i been talkin' to you. I'm disgusted. Yeah, sign right here. All right, sir."
Even eighty years ago, those used car salesman knew what they were doing. Even in the midst of a crisis, the salesman want nothing less than to take advantage of every unfortunate person that walks through their door. It does not matter to them that everyone around them is sinking, that people are losing their homes and starving. All they care about is putting an extra couple dollars in their own pocket. The salesman have no problem giving a lemon to someone who just handed them their life savings in an effort to try to go west and start a new life. They will just smile and shake your hand as they rip you off. Throughout this chapter, the imaginary car salesman narrator constantly states, "Get jalopies." Or, "I wisht I had five hundred jalopies." He knows he can turn a huge profit margin on any piece of rolling junk. Funny how the capitalist system can sometimes reward morally absent people, while annihilating the hopes and dreams of good, although naive, people.
On page 62, "..Your grandpa stood out there with a rifle, an' he blowed the headlights off that cat', but she come on just the same. Your grandpa didn't wanta kill the guy drivin' that cat', an, that was Willy Feeley, an, Willy knowed it, so he jus' come on, an' bumped the hell outa the house..." Muley explained to Joad.
I found this particular passage interesting. It demonstrates how hard-nosed, and even stubborn, the families of this time were. I do not think that a lot of the farming men back then realized that when they were tenants, the land and the house was not really their property. They knew that their parents and grandparents had fought wars against native americans and endured many other hardships along the way. That was reason enough for the land to always belong to them in their minds. I find it interesting how you see two completely different sets of values from people in the same general neighborhood. There is Muley, who refuses to leave the land even after his wife and kids pack up and move west. Then, there is Willy Feeley. Willy feels no remorse driving a car into the house of someone who he should consider his friends. Willy knew that young Tom's grandpa would not shoot him, so he takes these drastic measures to get his point across. Willy could care less if his friends were to starve, all he cares about is his own household. Muley is the complete opposite. He has so much pride that he cannot allow the banks or anyone else to drive him off his land, even if it is dead and barren. Muley hides in the fields from Willy, and at times Muley taunts Willy by shooting at his headlights. He even sneaks up behind Willy and takes a whack at his back with a wooden plank.