The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck


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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

What does it take for one to achieve the American dream? What kinds of struggles does one need to overcome to achieve their goals in life? In the classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, you can follow the Joad family in the pursuit to their dreams and the difficulties they faced and overcame. The Joad family faced numerous conflicts including; men, society, nature, and him/herself but overcame many to keep pushing them towards their dream; to go to California and find a better life.
The first and most obvious conflict the Joad family faces in the beginning of the novel is the ongoing struggle with nature. Beginning the novel is a description of the "Dust Bowl" and the families trying to work the land and make a living. The Joad family's home and land is taken away because they cannot grow any crop during the drought and are forced from their home by the bank. This is when they decide to move west to California and find work and a better life there.

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Ironically, it is also at the end of the novel when they face another battle with a different kind of nature. Rain begins to flood California, forcing the Joad's to fight for their lives. It is Pa that has the idea to fight off the flood waters from reaching their home. " Pa squatted in the doorway. " Coming up fast," he said. "I think we oughta go talk to the other fellas. See if they'll help ditch up."" ( 594; ch. 29) It is Pa's quick thinking that saves the family for awhile, but in the end, nature wins.
"The stream eddied and boiled against the bank. Then, from up the stream there came a
ripping crash. The beam of the flashlight showed a great cottonwood toppling.
The men stopped to watch. The branches of the tree sank into the water and edged around with the current while the stream dug out the little roots. Slowly the tree was freed, and slowly it edged down the stream. The weary men watched, their mouths hanging open. The tree moved slowly down. Then a branch caught on a stump, snagged and held. And very slowly the roots swung around and hooked themselves on the new embankment. The water piled up behind. The tree moved and tore the bank. A little stream slipped through. Pa threw himself forward and jammed mud in the break. The water piled against the tree. And then the bank washed quickly down, washed around ankles, around knees. The men broke and ran, and the current worked smoothly into the flat, under cars, under automobiles" (601; ch. 29).
When looking for each of our dreams we all will need to face society at one time or another. Once the Joad's reached California, along with thousands of other families looking for work, the society shunned them and called them "Okies." These people were hated by all natives and were treated poorly by them once reaching California.
"The owners hated them. And in the towns, the storekeepers hated them because they
had no money to spend. There is no shorter path to a store-keeper's contempt, and all his admirations are exactly opposite. The town men, little bankers, hated Okies because there was nothing to gain from them. And the laboring people hated Okies because a hungry man must work, and if he must work, if he has to work, the wage payer automatically gives him less for his work; and then no one can get more." ( 318, ch.19) With his much hatred facing the Joad family, it was
difficult to find work and to fit in.
When the society the Joad's lived in was against them, there was bound to be many conflicts between the Joad's and an individual making things difficult for all Okies. "The deputy swung about. "'F you'd like to go in too, you jus' open our trap once more. They was two fellas hangin' around that lot." " I wasn't even in the State las' week," Tom said. " Well, maybe you're wanted someplace else. You keep your trap shut"" (360; ch.20). It is during this situation when an individual is trying to get Tom into some trouble and threatened him because he hated Okies. The family is faced with many situations such as this one by the natives in California.
The hardest conflict every family member had to overcome was the conflict with themselves. Steinbeck describes the fears and conflicts within each family member through-out the novel, but perhaps the most trouble individual is Uncle John. Uncle John struggles through-out the journey with the death of his wife. Feeling that the death was his fault and having his sins hand over his head troubles Uncle John immensely. "Uncle John said slowly, "It ain't only the keepin' her out. I kep' her out to get drunk. I knownd they was gonna come a time when I got to get drunk, when I'd get to hurtin' inside so I got to get drunk"" (367; ch. 20). Dealing with the pain through drinking is the only way Uncle John knows how to overcome his conflict within himself.
Although we do not know how successful the Joad family was in find their American dream, we can follow their lives and the struggles they faced to get them as far as they had done. We all will find a little piece of the Joad family as we find ourselves facing the same conflicts when chasing our dreams; the struggle against nature, society, man, and him/herself.


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