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What are some examples from The Octopus of the importance of transportation in California?

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jwfusa1 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 12, 2013 at 12:58 AM via web

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What are some examples from The Octopus of the importance of transportation in California?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 20, 2013 at 5:49 AM (Answer #1)

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The importance of transportation in this novel is shown by the way that this means the farmers who grow the very crops that are transported around the country find themselves in the hands of bureaucrats and other figures who live many miles away and make decisions that have such a massive impact on their lives. The mercantile nature of the Railroad and how it is presented as an impersonal force that is in opposition to the farmers and seems to threaten their chances of survival indicates the importance of transporation as a theme. There are many examples of characters who are ruined by the Railroad, who came to California in hope of starting a new life and making the most of the so-called opportunities that this location would give them. Consider for example the character of Minna, who is forced to sell herself into prostitution when she becomes ruined. This is something she embraces when she says "Oh I've gone to hell." In addition, think of Dyke, the loving family man who becomes a desperado when his hopes of financial independence are shattered. In this novel it is the Railroad that seems to be the enemy of the farmers, who are presented as a loving community who work hard and help each other out. Note for example the following quote:

Wait till you see--at the same time that your family is dying for lack of bread--a hundred thousand acres of wheat--millions of bushels of food-grabbed and gobbled by the Railroad Trust, and then talk of moderation. That talk is just what the Trust wants to hear. It ain't frightened of that. There's one thing only it does listen to, one things it is frightened of--the people with dynamite in their hands,--six inches of plugged gaspipe. That talks.

Note the irony in this speech. It is the farmers who are starving, even though they grown the wheat and food that is consumed by the Railroad Trust, which is personfied as some sort of enormous monster. Even though the farmers are the ones that grow the food, the process of transporting them for sale to market in order to make something of a profit means that the Railroad Trust can exploit the farmers and they end up starving because of the way they do not get a fair price for their crops. Transportation becomes the focus of the injustice portrayed in this novel.

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