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In the first paragraph of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck describes the earth as...

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shadymccoy25 | eNoter

Posted July 14, 2013 at 9:24 PM via web

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In the first paragraph of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck describes the earth as "scarred," the ears of corn as "green bayonets," the weeds trying to "protect themselves." What other phrases describing the wind, sun, or dust indicate that the land is at war with harsh natural events? What does Steinbeck's progression of color tell us about what is happening to the land?

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 15, 2013 at 1:09 AM (Answer #1)

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The condition of nature in the opening chapter is reflective of a progression where it is increasingly difficult to find mercy from the harsh elements.  The land reflects this state of war- like attrition.  The reaction of the clouds to this state of being shows how this natural war has taken its toll:  "The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try any more."  Almost like civilians who have no hope against a marauding army, the clouds "appeared and went away."  Another such image is the condition of the sky. In the line, "the sky became pale, so the earth became pale," there is a condition of lifelessness, a paleness of face and spirit, that is infecting the land.  It is almost as if "the war" is taking its increasing toll, removing life from what once possessed it.

This progression of color reflects how the land is becoming afflicted with drought.  In the opening paragraph of the text, Steinbeck is showing the progression of The "Dust Bowl"  beginning to take form throughout the land.  The gradual change in the land's color from the intensity of the sun's heat and lack of precipitation shows how the land is inhabitable to life, and impossible to nurture crop development.  It is this state that will force people like the Joads to migrate West and find hope and growth out of a land that lacks it.  Steinbeck wishes to establish this from the opening paragraph of the text.

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