February 2009 Archives

Are You Smarter Than a Joad?

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..."I like to hear some more 'bout this," Pa said.

"Me too," Tom added. "Why these folks out west hate ya?"

The man looked sharply at Tom. "You jus' goin' wes?"

"Jus' on our way."

"You ain't never been in California?"

"No, we ain't."

"Well, don' take my word. Go see for yourself."

"Yeah," Tom said, "but a fella kind a likes to know what he's getting' into."...

-The Grapes of Wrath p. 205


Although it may be rude to state, throughout my reading of The Grapes of Wrath, I have always held the idea in the back of my mind that they Joads were an unintelligent bunch. I understand that Steinbeck created his characters to speak in a dialect that would be characteristic of how farmers and laborers from Oklahoma during this time period would speak, but I have to say, it has left me with feelings towards the Joads that may very well be undeserving.

Having learned in past history classes about the conditions and realities of California in the 1930's, I had some idea of what was waiting for the Joads once they completed their journey. I found myself thinking back to this knowledge while reading and wondering why the Joads were still making this journey - when they may only face more hardship and heartbreak when they made it to their destination.

At the time, there was a rush of people to California. Rumors were circulating about the incredible life that could be found there, but in reality - very few people reached success in California. Life in Oklahoma may have been hard, but had the Joads not done any real research before leaving on their journey?

The men they met at the river, who were coming back from being unsuccessful in California, brought up a very important point. Once the men explain that they are returning home, Pa asks if they can make a living in Panhandle, near Pampa. One of the men replies...

"Nope. But at leas' we can starve to death with folks we know. Won't have a bunch of fellas that hate us to starve with."

I feel that this should have been a wake up call to the Joads. If it wasn't, the negative description of the conditions of California should have been...

"She's a nice country. But she was stole a long time ago."..."But you can't have none of that lan'."..."You go in there an' plant you a little con, an' you'll go to jail!"

Later in the chapter 18, it is revealed to Tom that he won't be able to get work in California. He will have to fight for food everyday. But, the Joads disregard these warnings, and continue to California. The stories the family hears from these men serve as an incredible amount of foreshadowing of the things to come. Now while I can not be sure of the life they will really meet in California, to this point, I can only say that their future there looks dim.

If I had been in this situation, I can say I would have taken the advice of the men as advice to adhere to. This situation and the previous conversations only add to my feelings of the low intelligence of the Joads. While life at home may have been hard, facing a challenge completely unprepared is also not very wise at all. Maybe I am just overly cautious, and again I have not finished The Grapes of Wrath yet, so I can not be sure, but I think if the Joads had taken the time to intelligently think about their actions, and the words of their peers, they may have made a different decision regarding California living.


Thoughts From Other Students on The Grapes of Wrath

'Tis The Season

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       As with my entry on The Grapes of Wrath, I do not have a specific quote or line that really struck me this week, but more of a whole chapter or topic. While reading chapter 20, about seasons, I came across a lot to think about.

      Seasons. Wow. I never really thought about the impact that a season can have on a story. Sure specific weather conditions bring a certain mood to a piece of literature, or can be interpreted to mean something more (I was able to learn from the earlier chapters of How to Read Literature Like a Professor how important weather can be), but I never made a connection between weather and the season it is associated with. I like how Foster was once again able to make a point that I should have, but never really did pick up on. Snow usually falls in the winter, right? Hot beating sun in the summer, too. In order for weather to have an impact on a story, the season must also be apart of that!

      I also began to think about season, not just in a weather sense, but as sort of the "holiday" season. At this time usually people are happy and looking forward to the holiday to come, but also stressed and busy with shopping, baking, and decorating! So there are many types of different seasons that can have an impact on the plot, or deeper meaning of a piece of literature.

Blogs From Other Students

Pardone The Interuption...

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This blog entry is not related to a specific passage or quote in The Grapes of Wrath. It is related to a style of writing I notices, and then later researched while I was reading. I am not sure if any other students picked up on the relatively odd style to Steinbeck's writing in this book, but, while reading the first twelve chapters, I noticed this - there is a pattern within the chapter order. It seems as if one paragraph contains background information, situational information, or other comments, then the next paragraph contains narration among the characters.

This really interested me, because I have never seen a piece of literature that was written like this before. I decided to do some research into this and I found out that it is referred to as Intercalary Chapters. According to the information I found, there has been a great deal of debate about Steinbeck's use of these types of chapters in the book. People feel that the intercalary chapters of information interrupt the smooth reading of the dialogue, and the plot of the book. But, it seems that Steinbeck carefully thought out the order of the book so that the extra commentary could incorporate symbols and details more effectively. I also found that he used this technique to add to the humanistic and social themes of the work. While I can not be sure of what these two terms mean exactly - through my research I found that the chapters bring together juxtaposition and dramatization in The Grapes of Wrath. They are used to provide the readers with a detailed history of events and social influences.

I also found another bit of information that caught my eye. It seems that the story has a strong relation to the "syntactical structures of the King James Bible". Like Foster said in How To Read Literature Like a Professor, the Bible is a great book of inspiration for authors because of the detail and level of writing that is found in it. Two specific examples can been seen, but one is a spoiler, so I will save that for an entry after the completion of the book. The drought described at the beginning of the book goes hand in hand with an event at the end, and is very relatable to a very well known biblical story.

It was really interesting to do some research on this topic, and to discover more about something I had originally thought to just simply be the way the book was written. Did anyone else seem to notice this style of writing as they read The Grapes of Wrath?

Blogs From Other Students

Love Again?

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"MOTHER: In love! Is that beginning again! I thought you were over that!" - Machinal Episode Two p.15

The conversation that took place between the mother and the young woman right before and after this line, along with the line itself really interested me. It seems as if the young woman almost felt like she needed to get married, it was expected and what she should do, yet the mother makes it seem as if this is nonsense! A woman should not have to get married just because it is customary and what is expected. But then, after the young woman tells her mother who the man who wants to marry her is - and that he agreed to take care of the mother - suddenly the mother made it seem as if she needed to marry. The sudden change of mind really caught me off guard. I was agreeing with how the mother seemed to be reacting at the beginning, that a husband was not necessary, then when it was discovered he could be a supporter and provider, suddenly the daughter just had to be with him. I guess this was common at the time. As the daughter said, shouldn't she be in the love with the man she is to marry? But at the time the play was written, I think it was still common to only marry a man for his money, and what he could offer as far as material possessions (along the same lines as the reasons Daisy married Tom). I was excited to see a mother stand up for her daughters rights to remain single, but was disappointed in how easily she soon pushed her to accept the proposal.


Thoughts From Other Students

Symbolically Simple

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"Here's the problem with symbols: people expect them to mean something. Not just any something, but one something in particular. Exactly. Maximum. You know what? It doesn't work like that." -Foster p.97-98

                I am so glad to see that Foster does not think that symbols need to have only one meaning. I completely agree that symbols can be something personal. They mean different things to different people. I like to think that literature is open to interpretation. The author is not simply telling his or her reader what to feel or think. They are providing different elements that encourage the reader to think for themselves. Literature cannot always be cut and dry. I feel that symbolism can be found in anything, all a reader has to do is look beyond the words on a page. Some meanings can be simple, some can be more complex - it just depends on how the reader chooses to look at something. Using your instincts and following your "gut" is important. Like Foster said, all interpretations can be correct; it all depends on the lenses you choose to read through.

I also liked how Foster provided sample questions a reader could think about while trying to interpret a symbol (p. 106). It provided a simple guide on how to really analyze a literary work (which comes in handy if literature is not your academic specialty).

Thoughts From Other Students

Biblical Inspiration

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"The devil, as the old saying goes, can quote scripture."

- Foster p. 48


I found Fosters chapter entitled ...Or the Bible to be very interesting. Having attended a private Christian middle school, I was used to reading the Bible in class. Not only was it used in religion classes, but also in English and History. It seemed to me that no matter what students were learning, teachers always could make some connection between the subject matter and religion. I never understood how they were able to do that.

Now, after reading Foster it makes much more sense to me. Foster made very good references to works of literature with Biblical undertones or suggestions. I had read several of those works before, and was never able to pick up on them. Foster points out that not all uses of religion are obvious. Now I see how it sometimes is very important to read into things in order to pick up on what an author really means, or how they gained their inspiration.

Many people who are not religious tend to ignore or brush off the Bible if they do not believe in the message that it portrays. I feel as if Foster is saying that even though you may not believe that the Bible is a sacred text, it is a good piece of literature. It is well written, and very well known. It is something that a reader can appreciate for its content in more than one way. Some people see the stories as parables to live their lives by, while others read it for historical elements and references. Like Foster said, the stories never grow old, and it will continue to play a role in works or literature for as long as authors are writing.



Bad Driving is Bad

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"I'm thirty," I said. "I'm five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor."

- Nick Carraway

The Great Gatsby p. 186


When I first read the response Nick gave to Jordan, it seemed a little bit odd to me. I had expected him retaliate to the comments Jordan had made in a more hostile manner. Although I am not sure why I felt this way, after I re-read Jordan's previous statement, the answer Nick gave seemed much more appropriate to me. I interpreted what Jordan said to be accusatory, as if the relationship she had formed with Nick could be blamed solely on him. Nick had always felt she was shallow and questionable, and she was implying that he was just as low. I feel Jordan then breaks Nick down by attacking his honesty. This, I feel, became a turning point for Nick. He knew he had become just like Jordan.

Honesty played a huge role in The Great Gatsby. Characters did what needed to be done in order to obtain personal thrill or happiness; even if that happiness lasted only a moment, and soon passed. The time Nick spent in the East, with Daisy and Gatsby, was something he learned from. To me, it seems as if he had become so engaged in their private society and culture, he was slowly transforming into them. I feel as if it took the remarks Jordan made about his honesty to reinforce the knowledge that he needed to leave this place. In the short time he had been their, and with his birthday having passed - he realized it was time to grow up. Childish mind games and fights to be on top are not adult behavior. Nick could no longer lie to the person he truly wanted to be.

The way Nick answered Jordan is appropriate because of this. Nick knew it was time for his to grow up long ago. He needed to say it out loud; he needed someone to hear it, in order for him to act upon it. After finishing the final chapters in the book, I have come to the conclusion that Tom, Daisy, Nick, Jordan, Gatsby, Myrtle, Mr. Wilson, and the characters that pass through their lives, are bad drivers. Good life decisions were not their specialty.





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