Grapes of Wrath - Many Questions and Few Answers


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Many Questions and Few Answers in The Grapes of Wrath

 
The book The Grapes of Wrath focuses on a particular section of America called the "Dust Bowl" during the early nineteen thirties. During this time, when tenant farming was a way of life for so many Oklahomans, there came a drought which drastically cut down production of crops and forced the bank to evict the tenants in order to cut losses. The problem may seem straightforward at first, and maybe it is, but the cause of the problem should not be simplified. Naturally, the three participants in this disaster, the tenants, the bank and the workers, have their own separate, and logical, points of view. Who is right? In the larger picture, events occurring during this time period involving banks and corporations are primitive examples of the widespread greedy capitalism infused in our modern society.

One cannot think of the tenants of these farms without feeling some sort of pity or sympathy, because they had no concept of banks or land ownership. To them, land was theirs if they lived, struggled, and eventually died on it; not just because of a flimsy sheet of paper in hand. "My pa come here fifty years ago. An' I ain't a-goin'."(60), was the sentiment expressed by Muley Graves and felt by many Oklahomans when first ordered off their farms. Some reacted quite violently, threatening to shoot anyone who came onto their land with a tractor to tear down their house, but when the tractor came and one of their friends drove it, they laid down their guns in submission. "Who gave you orders? I'll go after him. He's the one to kill."(49), said one disgruntled farmer. "You're wrong. He got his orders from the bank." the driver replied. The farmer also found out that the bank got their orders from the East and wondered in exasperation, "But where does it stop? Who can we shoot?"(49) Basically, the tenants were cut off from their livelihood and without hope since they weren't even sure whom they could kill or what person to talk to in order to keep the land.

The Bank. Who is a bank? Is it a person? A physical thing? Couldn't it see that it was causing such suffering and despair? Although the heads of the bank could sympathize with the plight of the tenants, they felt that for some reason, the eviction could not be stopped.

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The Bank saw that the land in Oklahoma had gone sour. The Bank also knew that long ago, it had lent money to the fathers of the tenants to plant crops with which they had hoped to repay the loan. Unfortunately, the drought occurred, and the tenants no longer had the resources to pay the loan, so naturally, the Bank had to take back what it had provided. The Bank recognized a great new farm implement which didn't keep a share of profits or require a place to live: the tractor. The tractor was much more efficient than manual labor and could harvest many more acres than a hundred humans. The Bank wanted money, so it sent its tractors in and threw its humans out, much like replacing gears in a machine once one part becomes outdated. The Bank's workers were merely tools to make the replacement go smoothly.

Those individuals who had the unfortunate task of ordering the tenants off of their land understood that the tenants had nowhere to go in recourse and no money to back them up, but also realized the need to make money for their bank. They were stuck in between hating the necessity of the profits and reifying them because the drive for money gave them a sandbag to hide behind to shield themselves from emotion. "Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves."(40) Steinbeck illustrates.

Today, large corporations and banks are widespread. People give no thought to working for Microsoft or Nabisco, because it has become the natural order of events. If one were to ask the average Safeway worker who gave him his paycheck, he would not point to the manager of the store, but say that payment came from the collective funding of the Safeway organization. In fact, that worker would not be able to tell where this "Safeway" who paid his check was exactly located or what person, ultimately, owns and operates the entire company because even the "owner" of Safeway does not own the organization due to the stockholders. If Safeway is not a person, what is its goal and why was it started? Safeway was founded by someone whose name is no longer important because he wanted to make money. That is why Safeway, or any other self-respecting company, would fire an employee on the spot if it found the person was causing any loss of profits at all instead of thinking of the unfortunate individual's needs. The modern situation across the entire world seems to have fallen into the predicament of the Oklahomans in the early nineteen-hundreds, except for one small variance. Now, these "banks" have completely dominated everyone in the United States of America, and no one seems to care.

This analysis of events leaves many questions and provides few answers. What or who is a bank? Who could the tenants have shot to keep their land earned through sweat and blood? As for the bank, it is a form of collective consciousness, an embodiment of the drive to make money. No single person controls it, rather, it controls the people, shaping and forging lives into a money-making machine. In fact this bank has been clanking its massive gears for many years, and is bringing its labors to fruition in modern-day society, making people forget kindness and compassion and focus on possessions and money. In fact, when those poor tenants were asking who they could shoot, they were far too late, for the motions of the technological revolution were already set and would easily crush those bumpkins without a thought. "When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size."(42)


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