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Depressed and Oppressed in the West

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‘The Grapes of Wrath’, a novel written in 1938 by an American novelist, John Steinbeck, exhibits the wretched lives Americans faced during the Great Depression. The American classic portrays the grim conditions of the 1930s faced by migrant families by using the Joad family’s point of view; the Joads take on a journey westward to California. This journey is greatly unwanted but forced upon the Joads. As the family continues west, they start to show how interrelated anger and hunger actually are. John Steinbeck, in his book ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, describes the harsh world that the migrant family must endure through their encounters with authority figures, starvation, and the deterioration of the family.

Along with the exhausting drive to California comes multiple obstacles; dealing with people of authority exemplified one hurdle. The reason that the Joads had to migrate stems from people in positions of authority taking advantage of those below them. The bank chose to replace entire sharecropping families with tractors because it is cheaper. This causes the Joads to be homeless and penniless. The bank abuses its power and kicks many farming families off the land they worked for generations. As a result, the Joad family is one of many that has to travel a long journey west in hopes of employment. As the Joads continue their migration, they stop to rest along Route 66. An encounter with an authority figure begins when the Joads settle in their tent. Deputies approach the family and order them to leave by the time the sun rises the next morning. When the family questions the deputies’ command, they give them an implausible reason: they simply do not like having “Okies” around. Even though the deputies’ reason for demanding they leave the camp is unfair, the Joads leave because the deputies are dominant over the migrants. Another example is when the Joads stay at a Hooverville and a sheriff is summoned to arrest a man named Floyd Knowles. When the sheriff arrives and realizes that the Hooverville is full of impoverished people, he and his backup officers announce that they will burn down the camp. At this point, the Joads decide to leave. These authority figures demonstrate an abuse of power by threatening the less fortunate without offering to help relocate them. The Joads could not stay in the camp for more than a day before they were forced to leave. Steinbeck clarifies how little power the Joads have over their course of seeking a new life.

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One effect of the Great Depression further convinced families to move west: starvation. As families were being dislodged from their homes, they were left with as much as they could fit in their newly purchased cars. Before migrating, the bank takes almost all of the Joad family’s share of crops, leaving them with minimal money for food. This means that the family “half-starved” before their travels had begun. The Joad family encounters starvation in a Hooverville they stay at. Ma Joad cooks up some stew only to have many local children gather around with watering mouths; it is obvious that they have not eaten in quite a while. Ma gives them some leftovers and the Joads could not watch the sad sight as the local children quickly devour the scraps with improper utensils. A large number of people did not have jobs and could not find any. Unemployment results in little to no money which means little to no food. This scene captures the harsh reality many families suffer through. Even though the Joads faced this harsh reality, they are depicted as helpful and humane people throughout the novel. For example, the Joads stumble across a boy and man who is almost dead of starvation. Rose of Sharon takes it upon herself to feed this man her breast milk to prevent his death. Steinbeck makes it evident that migrant families face bleak conditions as they travel across the states in chase of a hyped up dream.

On their journey west, migrant families find it difficult to stay motivated. Losses were common; people frequently gave up or passed away. The Joad family went through multiple of these incidents. The first tragic event begins at a stop along Route 66 on their way to California. Grampa Joad starts to feel unwell after meeting the Wilsons, a family who ends up traveling with the Joads. Grampa tries to get some rest in the Wilsons’ tent, but, instead, has a stroke and dies. This fills Granma Joad with immense grief. Granma dies just before the family stops at the Arizona border; Granma dies partially from heartbreak. The loss of Grampa and Granma left the family to think about the fact that any of them could die on this trip. Ma Joad is highly affected by the loss of Granma but tries to keep her suffering private. The family learns that in order to be successful in starting their new life, they will have to cope with all of the upcoming unfortunate events. However, not all family members coped. Connie, Rose of Sharon’s husband, decides to run away from the family when no one paid attention; the family tries to make the most of their new “home” when they realize Connie is gone. Rose of Sharon is pregnant and is devastated to hear such horrid news; she is left to raise her child alone. The Joads were now tasked to deal with the family’s deterioration. When the family leaves Weedpatch, Tom decides that he should leave the family. He believes that if he stays, he is going to continue to put them in danger. Tom represents the glue that holds the family together after ma lost her motivation. Tom’s decision to leave is the final blow to the family. The Joad family crumbles right after arriving in California. Members who once held the family together have now lost everything, including their drive to start a new life.

Steinbeck illustrates migrant families’ numerous, heart-rending struggles including confrontations with people in power, hunger, and the fall of the family. The Joads’ encounters with authority figures continue throughout the novel, causing their travel experience to be prolonged and burdensome. Moving west enables the family to go from “half-starving” at the old family farm to “full-starving” on the road. They have no money to buy any food, so they have to live off of what little food they have. The family deteriorates while traveling to their new lives. The remaining Joad family members support each other as they cope with all their losses throughout the novel. At the end of his novel, John Steinbeck writes, “…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry, there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage” (Steinbeck 349). This quote reveals the dissatisfaction and anger held by migrant workers. The American economy’s state caused the fruit farmers’ crops to sell for very cheap. California farmers could not afford to give their fruits away or hire any new workers, so the crops would rot. This quote also emphasizes the irony in the journeys of the migrant families. These families traveled hundreds of miles, dealt with abusive authority figures, starved, and witnessed their own families crumble in search of work to be able to feed themselves only to find that the farms do not need them and are wasting a plethora of food.

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Depressed and Oppressed in the West. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Depressed and Oppressed in the West.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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Depressed and Oppressed in the West [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from:
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