Grapes Of Wrath Essay, Research Paper
In John Steinbeck’s epic, The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family is the example of the working class family during the 1930s. The novel depicts the Joad family as they are struggling to move from an infertile farm in Oklahoma to the gold coast of California. They are driven off of their farm by not only the “dust-bowl”, but because they can’t pay the mortgage to the banks, despite their hard work.
Work is a very important theme in the book. Steinbeck is describing a family whose livelihood comes from working on the land. This has two meanings. The first describes their jobs as farmers who are literally working on the land to make it produce crops. The second meaning however is much deeper; it describes the actual process that farmers such as the Joads go through on the farm. They “work” the land by cultivating it and treating the soil the right way. They put their own blood, sweat, and tears into the land. In return the land sprouts crops, which they would then sell for money.
The land however is destroyed by the dust bowl and the Joads have no place to work. They are skilled only for the farm. This is the first idea that Steinbeck gives about work. He shows a family with a skill, but in a place where the skill had no worth. Al seems to be knowledgeable about fixing cars, but for the most part, the only way that the Joads have, or can survive is as farmers. This is a direct statement on what the Industrial revolution was doing to America in the time period. The jobs on the farm that were done by hand were becoming machine tasks. Steinbeck makes a very blatant statement against the machines that came about and blamed them for much of what happens to the Joads that force them to leave the land.
Steinbeck doesn’t only use the machines as the machine that literally forces the Joads off of their farms, but also incorporates the ideas that the big businesses are using the machine to do the jobs of the actual farm families. Work is what the driver of the tractor had to do when he comes to remove the Joads from the land in Chapter Five. He was working for the bank and to him work was simply following orders that were given by a faceless corporation. The tractor and it’s worker are described as a monster, when in fact it is not the machine that is the monster, but the job that it is actually doing that is monstrous.
In Chapter Fourteen the phrase “results and not causes” is repeated numerous times to try to explain the rationalization that was being made about what had happened on almost all of the farms in Oklahoma. The cause was not the fact that these people were bad workers, but the fact that there was a natural disaster. However, the fact that the machine was quickly becoming the tool of choice would have eventually uprooted many farmers who might have stayed had there not been a dust bowl.
Work is a very noble task that all of the characters in the book know a lot about. Pa Joad and John who know what it is like to cultivate the land and produce food for the family. Ma Joad, who has worked hard at rearing children and bringing them up as best as she can, knows what work is. Tom understands what work is based on his experience in prison and growing up on the farm. Even Jim Casey knows what work is. He worked as servant of God for much of his life. When we meet him in the book however, he is redefining what his God wants from him as a servant. Even the tractor drivers know what it is to work. The tractor drivers are not doing a “good” thing in relation to the characters in the book, but the fact that they are working is honorable. Steinbeck always has them say something to the affect of “It’s my job,” and “If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”
Jobs are forever changing and I think Steinbeck captures a period of change where change is brought on faster than people can handle it. Nature and Technology displace an entire occupation much more rapidly than the occupants expect. His view on work seems to be that not all work is honorable, but the ethic of working, no matter what the job is, is.