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The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

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As the novel The Grapes of Wrath opens, what is devastating the land?

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The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more.  The surface of the earth crusted, a think hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.

Drought has struck the gray country of Oklahoma.  After the last of only light rains ends in early May, the crops die and the earth cracks.  Across this parched ground animal hooves and wheels traverse, breaking off some of the ground, which as dust blow into the air.  The wind carries the dust until it fills the sky and spreads over the land.  The finest dust does not settle onto the ground, but remains in the air. With the air filled with such dust, the sun gives almost no light and people choke when they go outside.  The night is black as no star can penetrate through the flying dust. Finally, the wind stops, and people wait for the dust, so long transported through the air, to settle on their poor crops.

The women studied the men's faces secretly, for the corn could go, as long as something else remained....After a while the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity and became hard and angry and resistant.  Then the women knew that they wer safe and that there was no break....The men sat still--thinking--figuring.

This phenomenon came to be associated with the area which became known as the Dust Bowl.  Because of severe drought and overfarming,the earth eroded.  Deep plowing of the rich topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the deep-rooted grasses that held the soil in place and maintained the proper moisture level of the earth by trapping it even in times of drought. Consequently, when the wind blew across the parched earth, it lifted the soil that no onger had anything to hold it down.  Immense dust storms reached as far east as New York.  

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