What images does Steinbeck use to portray of America during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression?I am writing a piece on the following and am looking for some help.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Interestingly, the images of desperation, desolation, and determination that are prevalent in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" are portrayed both in the narrative and in the intercalary chapters that provide documentary information.

The first of the intercalary chapters, Chapter One presents a tableaux of the "red...and gray country of Oklahoma" where the "last rains...did not cut the scarred earth."  Thus, the tone is set for the desperate departure of the Joad family from their 40 acre farm that has been devastated by the dust storms.  Another reason for the desperation of the Joad family is the fact that technology has replaced their way of life since tractors could plow and seed the land quicker than they.  Bereft, they sell what they can, slaughter their pigs, buy a second-hand car, and set out for the "promised land" of California where they hope to find work as migrant fruit pickers.  The Joad's son Tom and his preacher friend JIm Casy, a Christ-figure, set out for this land of hope.

However, along the way, the Joads encounter death and hardship. The grandfather, who cannot bear to leave his land, dies in his desolation.  Jim Casy, sacrifices himself in a fight against scabs who come to break the strike of workers. Yet, in their suffering the Okies are aided by other people, who represent the community of man.  With the aid of others, the Joads continue their journey.  In Chapter 3, Steinbeck describes an indomitable turtle who crosses a road.  Although he is struck by a vehicle and deterred in his efforts, his fierce will to survive serves him well.  With the determination of the symbolic turtle, the Joads survive rejections, treachery, and natural disasters.  Steinbeck's narrative ends with Rose of Sharon, who has given birth to a stillborn child, nursing a deathly ill man.  This image is symbolic again of the community of man, one human helping another because they all are part of society:

He shook his head slowly from side to side...'You got to,' she said....She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.

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billan10 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) eNoter

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Thank you so much this has helped incredibly. I pretty much have the base of my paper taken care of. Do you have any suggestions for a hook sentance for the introductory paragraph. I can't think of anything to draw the reader in. Thanks

tfretwell's profile pic

tfretwell | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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The Grapes of Wrath is a wonderful example of social criticism.  Social criticism is defined as a work which explores the problems present in a given society.  Among the societal problems emphasized in The Grapes of Wrath are the plight and exploitation of the migrant worker, the greed and corruption of big business, and the lack of government programs to deal with the problems.


Steinbeck gathered information for this novel by going into migrant camps and seeing the plight of the workers first hand.  He modeled the Weedpatch Camp in The Grapes of Wrath on Arvin Federal Government Camp.  He effectively portrays the image of society during this time as well as his indignation of it.  His readers are able to move from individual sympathy to moral bitterness toward society’s plight.

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