Steinbeck’s Faulty Logic in The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath chronicles the destruction and chaos of the lives of the dust bowl victims and their families. The classic novel works on two levels. On the one hand, it is the story of a family, how it reacts, and how it is unsettled by a serious problem threatening to overwhelm it. On the other hand, the story is an appeal to political leaders that when the common working-class is put upon too harshly, they will revolt. In this aspect it is a social study which argues for a utopia-like society where the powerful owners of the means of production will be replaced by a more communal and egalitarian community like the ones that spring up along the highway by the migrants seeking a higher ground. Their lives are destroyed by poverty and the dust bowl and all that matters is finding a more decent life somewhere west. Survival and getting to a new kind of life are all that matter, so much so that Ma lies next to a dead Granma all night because she is afraid the family will not get through is she seeks help “I was afraid we wouldn’ get acrost,’ she said. ‘I tol’ Granma we couldn’ he’p her. The fambly had ta get acrost. I tol’ her, tol’ her when she was a-dyin’. We couldn’ stop in the desert…The fambly hadda get acrost,’ Ma said miserably” (Steinbeck 237). Throughout the novel the lure of communism lurks subtly in the background as a reminder that in desperate circumstances, pushed too far, the people will revolt.
The Grapes of Wrath depicts the degradations and abject poverty visited upon immigrants who try to survive in the face of American capitalism where the powerful land-owning companies force them into constant migration and keep them from rising above a poverty level of less than basic sustenance. The novel focuses on the sacrifices these individuals make for each other, family and friends, and the way their simple lives are inherently worthy of dignity and respect. However, in the midst of the thousands of others traveling the concrete highway barely keeping body and soul together on the road to a better promise of life in California, these immigrants form a utopia-like community. Society is recreated each evening among the migrants, where social leaders are picked, unspoken rules of privacy and generosity emerge, and lust, violence and murder breakout.