Language and Style in The Grapes of Wrath


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In his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck creates a clear image of how life was for the migrants by describing the physical, mental, and emotional suffering they faced as they were forced to leave their homes. He was able to accomplish his intended goal by reaching out to the reader, pulling him into the shoes of the migrants, and forcing him experience life alongside of them as they travel down Route 66.

A clear example of the reader sharing the migrant experience is shown when the Joads must leave their home, “How can we live without our lives?  How will we know it’s us without our past?  No.  Leave it.  Burn it.”  (Page 120)  This passage allows the reader to become one with the migrants and to sense their emotional suffering and loss.  The reader can easily imagine themselves in the position of the migrants, losing everything they have, and it is the thought of this that touches the reader’s heart and arouses their compassion for the migrants.  In addition, “The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit.  And the children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange.  And the coroners must fill in certificates—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot.”  (Page 477)  Chapter twenty-five, which describes an over abundance of food and people dying of starvation, is very effective in capturing the despair and misery of the families.  It makes the reader angry that innocent children must die so that large corporations can make a profit and it alerts the reader to the inhumane treatment the migrants received.  Furthermore,  “They were hungry, and they were fierce.  And they had hoped to find a home, and they found only hatred.”  (Page 318)  The people who traveled to California had been forced to leave their homes, their past, and their lives and travel to a land they had never seen, where they were treated with disgust and hated because they were poor.  The coldness that was directed towards the migrants fills the reader’s heart with pity for them and turns their anger at the bank, large corporations, police, and all those who acted in inhumane ways towards the migrants.  Steinbeck tears the reader’s heart to pieces with his imagery about how the migrants were treated and his descriptions about the obstacles that they had to face.

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Steinbeck provokes the reader’s sympathy for the subject and makes his novel appeal to human emotions by writing about the tragedies that the migrants faced.  For example, “I can’t tell ya about them little fellas layin’ in the tent with their bellies puffed out an’ jus’ the skin on their bones, an’ shiverin’ an’ whinin’ like pups…Them children died a heart failure…Shiverin’ they was, an’ their bellies stuck out like a pig bladder.”  (Page 260) Steinbeck’s descriptions of the death of innocent children, whose lives were taken from them because of greed, goes directly to the reader’s heart and fills it with remorse and compassion.  The reader can not avoid being touched by passages such as this and developing anger towards a society that refused to help.  In addition, “Well, that kid’s been a-cryin’ in his sleep an’ rollin’ in his sleep.  Them folks though he got worms.  So they give him a blaster, an’ he died.  It was what they call black-tongue the kid had.  Comes from not getting’ good things to eat.”  (Page 326) A child dying of starvation was an everyday occurrence for the migrants.  This fact, along with Steinbeck’s dramatic descriptions sicken the reader and develop, within them, disgust for a society which could offer the migrants no assistance, rather it just sat back and watched as children starved to death.  Furthermore, “Go down an’ tell ‘em.  Go down in the street an’ rot an’ tell ‘em that way.  That’s the way you can talk…Go on down now, an’ lay in the street.”  (Page 609)  The migrants pleas for help could not reach the hearts of most people, rather they helped build up resentment of the migrants in people.  Uncle John hopes that if the people can see the despair that they are causing the migrants they may do something to help.  Steinbeck’s descriptions of the tragic deaths the migrants faced were very effective in helping him to achieve his goal of shredding the reader’s heart to pieces.

Steinbeck accomplished his intended goal by his vivid descriptions of migrant life and of all they had to suffer through.  He wrote about the tragedies the migrants faced and the heartbreak that came along with their losses.  Steinbeck’s bold descriptions and language exposed the reader to the inhumane treatment the migrants faced; something no reader could be immune to. 

 

 

 


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