Eluded Socialist Allusions Within Steinbeck
’s Grapes Of Wrath Essay, Research Paper
Imagine awaking to the first rays of dawn, finding yourself lying on a tattered scrap of cardboard beneath a highway overpass. Your empty stomach churns with numbing hunger and you know today will be yet another listless scramble for survival. Homeless, jobless, and hungry, you glare with fervent jealousy at those clothed, groomed, and pompous passers-by grasping their purses and wallets tightly when they catch sight of you. Ashamed and enraged, you feel cheated and wonder how it is possible for such financial diversity to exist within the same city. You pitifully prop yourself against a wall on a busy street corner and await the morning rush hour that will supply your meager breakfast. The extreme poverty experienced by the unfortunate farmers who were forced into vagrancy during the Great Depression is not unlike the neediness that exists in American ghettos today. Such widespread destitution is a direct result of an inadequate economic system. Through tales of helpless families’ tribulation, Steinbeck and Kotlowitz disclose the defects of the capitalist system in The Grapes of Wrath and There Are No Children Here, meanwhile alluding to an alternative economic structure: socialism.
Throughout the novels, disadvantaged families become helpless victims of the lack of effective government aid in their area, an adverse effect of extreme capitalism. The Chicago Housing Authority actually hired “private security guards [who] searched out the squatters and physically removed them” (Kotlowitz 79). By kicking homeless people back out on the street, this government outfit coldly disregarded the basic human need of shelter in order to preserve their right to the decrepit property of the Henry Horner Homes. Such self-interested procedures are frequent and permitted through the capitalist ideas of personal property ownership. The “salesmen, neat, deadly, [with] small, intent eyes watching for weakness” depicted in an intercalary chapter are exemplary members of those who abuse the system (Steinbeck 83). These malefactors, examples of limitless capitalism fueled by selfishness and greed, are able to prey on the vulnerable migrants because the mandating power set no restrictions against such unjust monopoly. Similarly, the violence that denigrates childhood in There Are No Children Here could be prevented if the government enforced laws against such brutality. Unfortunately, rash and illegal gang business is transacted with impunity in the Henry Horner Homes area daily because no one bothers to regulate illicit activity. Another illustration of abuse ignored by the ruling power is when “the bank told [the landowners] . . . ‘You’re paying thirty cents an hour. You’d better cut it down to twenty five’” immediately followed by “‘You going to need the usual amount for crop loan next year?’” (Steinbeck 402). No influential force intervenes because the manipulation is viewed as an application of a capitalist dogma, “the law of supply and demand.” Consequently, the banks continue to benefit from the forced maltreatment of the impecunious nomads. Because the capitalist regime advocates the benefit of the individual, not the common state, underprivileged people’s needs are often ignored.
The authors allude to socialism when their desperate characters, enveloped in penury, congregate to ensure that all basic needs are met. When a newborn Oakie baby “got worms . . . an’ he died . . . from not getting’ good things to eat,” the compassion of the community shined despite the tragedy as “a little heap of silver grew” in front of the parents’ tent, thus providing a decent burial for the baby (Steinbeck 326). Likewise, when LaJoe’s welfare benefits are cut off, “one of her sisters gave her $65 worth of food stamps [and] Rochelle supplied her with some food” (Kotlowitz 101). Her family and friends “were not much better off than she”; they sacrificed to provide enough for her family’s survival (Kotlowitz 101). Even though poverty was ubiquitous, the selfless generosity of people in these two eras prevails. In the midst of deprivation, families and neighbors adhered to the humanist concept of sharing as a means for common survival. The benevolence of one individual can also impact the well being of an entire society. Out of goodness, Craig Davis would dee-jay miniature dance parties on the porch of the Horner complex that gave the residents “some of the most spontaneous and spirited fun they had ever had at Horner” (Kotlowitz 123). He alone provided enjoyment to the people’s bleak lives. Rose of Sharon, after enduring the migration from home, the flight of her husband, and the death of her unborn child, puts aside these woes and unabashedly offers a famished man the milk from her breast. Despite her previous modesty and overwhelming troubles, Rose gives part of herself to save another. The authors include scenes that show selflessness and the characters’ concern for the common good, key aspects of ideal socialism, to show that in the flaws of capitalism, desperate people open their hearts to socialist tendencies.
The use of innocent people as victims of cold capitalism and unknowing promoters of the principles of socialism proves effective in both novels. Neither Steinbeck nor Kotlowitz directly oppose capitalism and advocate socialism in their tales, but rather discretely present the two ideals to influence the reader’s thoughts about each system. Both authors are aware that not all readers will agree with malign towards capitalism. Steinbeck even displays little Ruthie’s love of personal property: when she was instructed to share the “geranium gone wild” with her brother, she “felt how the fun was gone” because she wanted the flower for herself only (Steinbeck 616).