Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath Notes

v     Written in 1939, this novel won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and was a major factor in Steinbeck winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962.

v     This book tells the story of the Joads, a family of tenant farmers living in Oklahoma (Okies) during the Great Depression (1929-1939).

US GDP (gross domestic product) during the Great Depression

US Unemployment during the Great Depression

v     A tenant farmer doesn’t own his land, but pays rent, just like a family living in a flat. The tenants hope to sell enough crops (plodiny) to pay off their rent, but this was impossible during the Great Depression because drought (sucho) turned the land into a giant Dust Bowl (oblasť sužovaná prachovými búrkami, hlavne okolie Oklahomy, kde v 30. rokoch prachové búrky zničili mnoho fariem a donútili ľudí, aby opustili svoju pôdu).

v     So, The banks forced all these tenants off the land, replacing workers with tractors, and they moved to California, looking for work on other farms. The Joads became migrant workers – going from farm to farm begging for work.

Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange, 1936

v     The journey from Oklahoma to California was long and dangerous, and by the time they got there, they were so desperate they’d work for food. The farm owners in California gave such low wages that some families were in debt by the end of the day, just by getting food.

v     Growing angry at the situation, the workers tried to organize unions and strike. But the farm owners hired “strike breakers”, also called scabs. These were people willing to work for lower prices.

v     They also hired vigilantes, people with guns and other weapons to attack unionists, and burn down their tents at night.

v     The title of this book is a critique of these landowners. They wanted to grow fruit and vegetables, but what they really grew was the wrath (extreme anger) of their workers. The phrase “grapes of wrath” actually comes from a song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which was a patriotic song written during the Civil War in 1861.


The Joad Family:

v     Consists of Ma & Pa Joad, and their children: Noah (the eldest), Tom (the favourite), Rose of Sharon, called “Rosasharn” (18), Al (16), Ruthie (12), Winfield (10).

v     Other family members that come along include Grandma & Grandpa (who had to be taken in his sleep), Uncle John Joad, and Connie Rivers, Rosasharn’s husband who deserts her soon after they get to California.

v     Tom Joad also asks an older preacher, Jim Casy, to come with them.

v     During the long trip to California, both Grandpa and Grandma die, lying in tents with no doctor. Grandpa had to be buried by the roadside. Grandma was taken to a mortuary in California.

v     In Arizona, Noah became the first of the family to leave, saying he wanted to stay and fish by the Colorado river. The family considered him to be strange and no one argued with him.

v     During the trip, the Joads befriend an older couple called Ivy & Sairy Wilson, from Kansas. Ivy gets too sick to travel, and the Joads leave them somewhere in Arizona or Nevada. She probably died.

v     Connie disappeared soon after arriving in California. Rosasharn was hurt because she was hoping he’d go to school and soon own a store to support her (she was several months pregnant).

v     In California the Joads went to work on a series of different farms. They lived in Hoovervilles, a collection of tents and shacks that were set up outside every town in California. These little slums were named after President Hoover, who was very unpopular. Every once in awhile police would go to these Hoovervilles and harass () people.

v     In one of these Hoovervilles, the Joads meet a union organizer named Floyd Knowles. He, Tom, and Casy get in a fight with a guard from a farm, and Casy goes to jail.

v     Later, Tom sees Casy in a strike, get beaten to death by police, and he kills the one who killed Casy. Afterwards, Tom runs away.

v     The story ends with a flood. The family run to higher ground, leaving their last worldly possessions, and hiding in a barn, where they discover a starving man and his son. Rosasharn’s baby was stillborn (narodený mŕtvy), so she nurses the man to keep him from dying.

It's important to remember that migrant farm workers still exist today, both in America and Europe. Many migrants in the US are illegal aliens, meaning they don't have a legal work visa. Comedian Stephen Colbert testified before congress after spending one day as a migrant worker:


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