Greed Exposed in The Grapes of Wrath


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Greed Exposed in The Grapes of Wrath

 

 

The Grapes of Wrath is a novel that was written by John Steinbeck. This novel explores the predicaments that families faced in the "Dust Bowl" of Western America. The story shows how the Joad families, like many other families, were made to leave their homes because big business took over and the little man was left to fend for himself. Times were changing and families had to adjust even if that meant starting a whole different life in a brand new place. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck portrays the drawbacks of a capitalist system through the landowners who take advantage of small farmers and through the use of symbolism.

 

Steinbeck wrote this novel because he wanted to draw attention to what was going on at the time. Steinbeck captures this by showing the end results of big business and the little people it effects. The book opens with nature dealing a swift hand to the land and the people who work the land to survive. Steinbeck tells of dust covering everything like a blanket, smothering the people. The people know that rough times are ahead but they do not know that their lives are going to be drastically changed. As the novel progresses the Joad family has to make decisions that will effect the whole family and their journey to a new land with hopes of making it there. "We got to figger close. It's a sad thing to figger close"(p. 111). When they made the decision to leave their house they had to account for everything that was to be taken with them. When they took their possessions to the scrape yard the man hustled them into taking a low price for their things because Steinbeck wanted to show how greed affected the small businessman as well as the big businesses.

 

The dust besides symbolizing the life leaving the land, it also symbolizes the banks that took all they could from the farmers and then when they could give no more they were kicked out of their homes. "Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes.

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The people brushed it from their shoulders. Little lines of dust lay at the door sills"(p. 3). The dust signifies the coming of big business farming with machines. The men who ran these machines did not have the same relationship with the land as previous farmers had. The previous farmers cared about the land and worked with love and care because if they took care of it then the land would take care of them.

 

In the beginning when Tom is walking down the road to his family's place he sees a turtle. The turtle represents the slow and tough journey that families will face when they make a move to a new land. The turtle also represents the families because when the turtle gets flipped over he must adjust and flip himself back over or stay on his back and die. When the Joad family and other families are evicted from their homes that is similar to being on their back. The families had to learn to adjust or else they would not survive. Most families get themselves back on their feet to start a new life but some could not adjust and this dying.

 

The turtle had similar accounts of bad luck on his travels but through it all he prevailed because he was a survivor. In the book the turtle is described as, "The old humorous eyes looked ahead, and the horny beak opened a little. His yellow toenails slipped a fraction in the dust"(p.16). Steinbeck wants to portray the turtle as an old and wise creature that knows what it has to do to survive in a big world when it is the little guy. The turtle is used to compare the obstacles that all will face on their journey to the southwest.

 

"The man sitting in the iron seat did not look like a man; gloved, goggled, rubber dust mask over nose and mouth, he was part of the monster, a robot in the seat"(p.37). Steinbeck shows the ugly side of a man working for a big business not because he wants to but because he has to. He has to work at the job to provide for his family. The way the man justifies his job, is that if he didn't do it, somebody else would. This shows the breakdown people have when they are forced to fend for themselves. The general feeling that Steinbeck was expressing here was that when big business came in worked the land, it had no connection, no emotion for the land. To them the land was just another thing to help them make money. It did not care about the people it would effect because it only cared about profits. One man and multiple machines could farm more efficiently and in less time then lets say and farmer and his helpers. When machines come in though and take over a man's job, all the personal care and personal touch is gone.

 

"He loved the land no more than the bank loved the land"(p.37). This quote describes everything that Steinbeck was talking about how the bank loved the land as long as it was producing and providing money for the company. If it wasn't, then the bank would dump the property and move onto another area of land and get rid of all the people there. A good analogy of this, is a pimp exploits a women or man until he has served his purpose, then the pimp will go find another person with untapped resources and exploit them until they are all gone. The bank being the pimp, exploits the land for it's own personal gain and when all of the money that could be made was made, it will move on to a new location.

 

"Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses"(p.38). This was the beginning of the end for the small time farmer. People soon had no real respect for the food they ate because they usually had no part in growing it or killing it. They lost touch with the benefits of providing for yourself and not relying on someone else to provide food for you. Today, it is ten times worse. People in America do not grow their own food, or make their clothes, they rely ob big business to provide it all for them and then people go out and buy it all. People do not get that feeling that they accomplished something as with farming does. Farmers work the land all year, getting it ready for the next season. Putting in some "TLC", because they know if they do that they will be rewarded. With buying everything nowadays, people do not show the respect that some items deserve.

 

"Well, what you doing this kind of work for- against your own people? "Three dollars a day. I got damn sick of creeping for my dinner--and not getting it. I got a wife and kids. We got to eat. Three dollars a day, and it comes every day." "That's right," the tenant said. "But for your three dollars a day fifteen or twenty families can't eat at all. Nearly a hundred people have to go out and wander the roads for your three dollars a day. Is that right?" And the driver said, "Can't think of that. Got to think of my own kids. Three dollars a day, and it comes everyday. Times are changing, mister, don't you know? Cant make a living on the land unless you've got two, five, ten thousand acres and a tractor. Crop land isn't for little guys like us any more"(p.38-39).

 

This passage shows the mentality that people showed when they went into survival mode. When people are put into these types of situations their true colors are shown. The young man who works the tractor knows what he is doing is destroying many lives but it is not his fault. He was not the one who took away their land, homes, and dignity. The banks and big business were the ones behind it all. The only thing they saw was dollar signs.

 

 


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