How is The Grapes of Wrath relevant to readers today?How has the novel influenced American society and culture as we know it?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Grapes of Wrath is a novel which is set during the great depression and follows the journey of the Joads, a family hit hard by the dust bowl who sells or packs all their belongings and seeks work out in California.

Although America has not known hardship as severe as the difficulty of The Great Depression since that time, many might argue that the recession we are currently in as a nation and a world is as close as we've come to history repeating itself.  Therefore, now, more than ever, the themes and ideas presented in The Grapes of Wrath are relevant.  I think, among other things, you could make direct comparisons of the conditions presented in the novel now to the problems facing illegal immigrants in our country and hardships as a result of the Great Depression to the hardships today as a result of the recession.

First, there are the ideas presented about the working conditions and lives of migrant workers.  At the time the book was published, the way the truth was presented was considered highly controversial and even somewhat offensive.  Ironically, people were in shock and awe concerning the poverty presented in this novel.  Today, we are looking at very similar conditions for immigrant workers - similar levels of poverty, similar levels of difficulty and despair.

Consider also the class conflicts presented in the novel.  The "haves" versus the "have-nots" (this book of course focuses on the have-nots) will always be a conflict our country faces.  Think about the media driven stories of the lack of a middle class or the widening gap between the rich and the poor.  While the situations are decidedly different, the results (emotional and physical) are very much the same.  The novel presents this conflict and its consequences.

Finally, the idea of hope can be compared to today.  Then and now, during times of trouble, America seems to remain true to it's motto "The Land of Opportunity."  Even today, people have not forgotten that.  Despite the obvious tone of depression in the novel, there is an ever-present hope that things will always improve.  Our country today maintains that hope - and works through national difficulty because of that hope.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous post was well directed.  I would say that Steinbeck’s work is relevant to the modern setting because it articulates the condition of being poor.  In a nation such as America, poverty is not something readily associated with its conception.  As a nation, Americans truly embrace the concept of being “middle class”  in large part because there is no institutionalized caste system, class configuration, or any other external distinction which locks people into the roles of having to occupy the lowest rungs of society.  This preoccupation with being “middle class” is one where the belief of upward mobility has a tendency to silence the realities of those who are poor, immersed in poverty.  The faith in this opportunity ideology creates a situation where there is a tendency to not listen to the voices of those who have failed or been denied their share of the economic pie.  I feel that it is in this void where Steinbeck’s work walks. There is a reality that is conveyed in the text where one understands the realities of being poor and the condition that impacts all Americans.  Being poor is not something where one holds shame or disgrace.  Rather, it is a condition that one has to endure and battle through.  Rather that create the situation of being poor as an isolating experience, Steinbeck argues that solidarity and collectivizing with one another is a way to endure the challenges of being poor.  Such a vision also presents the idea that one is not alone, devoid of others, in any condition brought on by economic and material challenge.  In a modern setting which is present with economic challenges, the lessons from Steinbeck’s work seem to echo a great deal to modern readers

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The Grapes of Wrath

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