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The Real World Can Serve as Evidence Now??

"If the novel caused both the government and the nation-at-large to reevaluate federal irrigation subsidies for corporate growers, clearly it must have effectively criticized the inequity and corruption infusing California's water-appropriation schema."
--"Turning wine into water: Water as privileged signifier in The Grapes of Wrath.", pages 91-92

This article presents a really good example of presenting a counter-argument and addressing it in-depth, but some of Cassuto's reasoning in his refuting of the counter-argument seems a little sketchy to me. Worster claims that the novel failed to address the issue of distribution of water, and Cassuto refutes that by claiming that since the government reevaluated water distribution after the novel was published, the novel must have addressed the issue somehow. This feels a little like he's doing what we've often been told not to do: using evidence from the real world to support a claim about a fictional work. I'm not sure that Cassuto ever presents any concrete evidence that clearly links the publication of the novel with the government's changing water policies; he mentions there was debate about the novel in the government and that Eleanor Roosevelt endorsed it as being accurate, but doesn't go much farther than that. Certainly the novel could have influenced lawmakers, but there are numerous other factors that could have influenced them as well. The novel addresses the plight of migrant workers, but just because it could have helped cause the government to find solutions to address this plight does not mean the novel itself proposed a specific solution. If the novel failed to condemn "hydrological autocracy" and merely suggested that "putting the land in the hands of the migrants" would solve all the problems as Cassuto claims that Worster incorrectly asserts, government officials may have been motivated to act by the novel but seek out better solutions to the problem than the ones the novel presents. Just because it points out a problem that the government later attempted to solve does not mean it actually presented the solution the government came up with.
While I think it was an effective technique to refute Worster's argument by pointing out ways in which water acts as an "absent signifier" in the work itself, it seems weird backward reasoning to me to use actions of people in the real world after the novel came out to back up an assertion about something the author did in writing the novel. Novels often cause reactions that the author did not intend or foresee, so suggesting this reaction was somehow evidence of an author's conscious technique feels a little off to me.

Comments (3)

Alyssa Sanow:

I was also disappointed in Cassuto use of "actions of people in the real world after the novel came out to back up an assertion about something the author did in writing the novel." I also feel like a lot of textual evidence from the novel exists that would better support Cassuto thesis. He included no quotes from the book and only a few examples of setting or plot evidence.

Christopher Dufalla:

I would have to agree with you, Matt. As I read this article, I must admit that I was slightly confused as to how I should phrase my views, but I think that you've done that very nicely. I felt that Cassuto leaned a little too much on the real world with regards to the novel's importance, but you've taken it a step further and provided the evidence. It seems as though the article makes too many references to real-world situations and actions.

Julianne Banda:

I agree with you Matt. It bothered me as I was reading this article that he did not use any quote from the book to support his claim, yet the article was bout the book, was it not? He used reality too much as an example when the book is clearly fictional.

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