Illustration of the back a man in a hat and overalls looking towards the farmland

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

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In  The Grapes of Wrath, what is the connection between the plight of American farmers and residents of today's developing world?

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When assessing most work by Steinbeck, I think that the most powerful element that is present is the voice of the dispossessed.  As eloquently, or perhaps even more than any other American writer, Steinbeck gives voice to the narrative of those who endure struggle against social, economic, and psychological conditions.  In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck's story has universal parallels.  The idea that the farmers were "forgotten" in the tide and current of American consciousness is compelling.  The farmers, like the Joads, were struggling even when American businesses in the 1920s were soaring.  Their problems became publicized when they suffered worse than others in the decade to follow.  This is similar to residents in other parts of the world who struggle through rural perseverance, while the globalized setting pays so much more attention and focus to the urban cosmopolitan expression of the good.  Additionally, the Joads, and other farmers, suffer in large part to natural conditions that cripple their ability to work the land.  This is akin to residents in part of the world that either fail to account or cannot account for natural calamities that wipe out land to harvest.  Some of these conditions can be excessive flooding, or not enough rain in drought, as well as earthquakes or tsunamis.  Finally, I think that a connection that can be made between the farmers that Steinbeck's work discusses as well as farmers in other parts of the world is the need to collectivize.  Steinbeck presents a highly active and resistant vision for his farmers.  They do not sit passive and allow consciousness to spiral out of control.  They are active agents in how they attempt to mobilize, facing opposition in the process, but recognizing how collectivity is the only solution in the face of overwhelming odds.  In this light, such a predicament speaks to farmers all over the world in whether or not they will see their struggles in an individual frame of reference or embrace the broader scope of their narrative.  These choices face both farmers like the Joads and their international counterparts today.

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