The Grapes of Wrath

  • Created by: REBECCA
  • Created on: 04-05-18 11:37

Biographical Context

Steinbeck himself had experience of working in California as a young man prior to the migrant crisis, and so his visceral descriptions of labouring in the hard sun come from personal experience. The Salinas lettuce strike descends into violence in September 1936. Vigilantism grew in the area that Steinbeck once knew and loved. 

He had a marine biology degree, leading to his love and knowledge of all things nature. Over the years, Steinbeck grew to believe that there is an inextricable connection between nature and mankind. Perhaps why agrarianism is one of the major themes of the novel.

In August 1936, three years prior to The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck published a serious of newspaper articles for the San Francisco News on migrant farm workers. These were accompanied by moving black and white photographs which famously humanised the migrants, for example 'Migrant Mother', an image of a woman with her many children sheltering from the weather. These articles were reprinted into a pamphlet later on, and eventually made into fiction to have a greater impact on the general public of America.

He's widely considered a proletarian writer, from the working class writer for the class-conscious proletariat. 

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Literary Context

Social realism is a term to describe works of art and literature which empower the working class masses, labour unionists and the politically disenfranchised. The movement flourished during the 1920s and 1930s in times of economic depression, racial conflict and the rise of international fascist regimes. The belief that art is a weapon that can be used to fight the capitalist exploitation of workers and stem the advance of fascism. 

Ecocriticism describes literature which analyses human treatment of and connection to nature. These texts frequently illustrate environmental concern, although this applies to The Grapes of Wrath to a lesser extent. Through the rise of capitalism, Steinbeck seems to anticipate a future denigration of the environment as well as the damage done in the Dust Bowl and by poor farming practices:

The Western land, nervous under the beginning change...

every day the earth paled

The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and after a while they did not spread anymore.

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Literary Context

The Protest Novel: a work of literature in which a prevailing social problem is dramatised through its effect on the characters. In The Grapes of Wrath, the social problem in question is the rise of fascist capitalism and prejudice against the migrant people: these are the main obstacles faced by the Joads throughout the novel. Often depict the daily sufferings of the lower class or vulnerable characters such as people living in poverty, homosexuals, women or children.

Transcendental literature: prevalent during the nineteenth century, transcendental literature rejected the organised religion of the time and instead approached a broader view of the human spirit. In The Grapes of Wrath, characters such as Tom Joad and Jim Casy portray a belief in Transcendentalism, or the Emersonian concept of the Oversoul: 

mankin' was holy when it was one thing.

Everything's holy, even me.

There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.

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Critical Reception

The Grapes of Wrath, upon its publication, was banned in Bakersfield California, as well as Kansas, Missouri, and Buffalo New York. It was burned in St Louis. 

Labelled obscene sensationalism by The Associated Farmers of California, who obviously felt denigrated due to Steinbeck's thorough criticism of their role in the migrant crisis and their poor treatment of migrant workers.

A congressman of Oklahoma labelled the novel a filthy manuscript, claiming that the events of the book were a lie created by a twisted, distorted mind.

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