Dirty, Ignorant, Sexual Maniacs who Remain Optimistic

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Steinbeck introduces the Grapes of Wrath with foreshadowing of the hardships to come. The actual losses and difficulties that the Joads must face are both awe-inspiring and depressing. No matter how many times the Joads hear that there really aren't any jobs in California, "'Goin' back home. We can't make no livin' out there,'" (Steinbeck 204) they continue to travel westward and muster some hope that they will be the lucky ones who can achieve this dream of land, higher wages, and a nice house that has attracted thousands of displaced farmers. Faced with the losses of both grandparents, Connie, Noah, and Casy because he is protecting Tom, the family unit remains strong. It isn't even a shock to the reader when Tom kills another man. Steinbeck has created Tom as a character who simply cannot control his temper, "'Ma - I got to get away from 'em. I'm scairt I'll kill one'" (Steinbeck 280). Eventually, Tom is lost to the family because his loyalty still lies with them and they are hiding criminal if he stays; Al, however, remains with the family, but is no longer loyal to them. Instead, his fiancé's family is his main priority. He makes this clear in a dialogue with his father "'Pa, if they go, I'm a-goin' too'" (Steinbeck 437).

The struggles of the Joad family are not based entirely on erosion from within the family. The community that develops in California and along the road is one of division and judgment. As the Joads are packing up their belongings, the only thing of real value they can take is the family, which eventually disintegrates. Along the road, however, kin relationships develop with the other displaced migrant farmers. They are in the same situation without land, money, or jobs; their struggles "welded them, united them" (Steinbeck 282). Californians, however, saw the Midwestern families as a threat, and they looked down on them. In their poverty, filth, and inability to alter their standard of living, the displaced agricultural families became no better than animals in the eyes of Californians. This attitude was especially prevalent among those who owned land, ran shops, or enforced the law. "These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They're degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned Okies are thieves" (Steinbeck 283). Steinbeck has created a novel in which forces of nature, a drought and a flood, societal discrimination, and familial abandonment create a strong group of people who are not only willing to face any situation, but they remain unrealistically hopeful for the future.

 

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/03/steinbeck_the_grapes_of_wrath_1/

2 Comments

Nice work, Alyssa. I particularly like how you recognize Al's divided loaylties compliate your point, since Al isn't simply being unfaithful to his current family, and he's not simply being faithful to his new family. I wonder if your references to foreshadowing and nature are going to end up distracting you from the insight you can offer about the family... sometimes the hardest thing about writing is that you have to let go of perfectly good ideas in order to make room to develop the better ones.

Good work.

Christopher Dufalla said:

Sacrifice is most definitely a prominent theme within this novel. The family changes as members drop out, die off, or sacrifice themselves for the rest of the family. Tragedy and hardship are two things that the Joads are very well versed in. Steinbeck has surely built the Joads up as a family whose faith in one another is very strong. Perhaps he is aiming at an archetype of togetherness: what is the true meaning of unity? I could be wrong, but that just crossed my mind as I read your blog, Alyssa.

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