What is the significance of The Grapes of Wrath?

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mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Grapes of Wrath made a significant impact on the way Americans viewed the victims of the Dust Bowl.  The book was published in the spring of 1939.  The severe drought that contributed largely to the conditions that caused the Dust Bowl did not end until the autumn of that same year.  Until John Steinbeck's book, there was general awareness of what was happening but not a large scale response.  The news reported what was happening to those outside the effected regions and photographers such as Dorothea Lange showed a more human aspect of the devastation.  However, it was John Steinbeck's novel that showed the details of the utter desperation of people who lost their livelihoods, their homes, and their health.  

Many farmers, who could not grow enough crops to make a living, faced eviction and foreclosure.  Many packed up their families and traveled on Route 66 to seek a new life in California.  In California, they faced discrimination.  They were called "Okies," which was a derogatory term.  Some merchants event posted signs saying that they would not serve "Okies."  The work the migrants found paid little and was often seasonal.  Many people suffered health problems due to breathing in dust for years.  "Dust pneumonia" could kill victims.

The fictional Joad family in Steinbeck's book suffered losses of their home and livelihood.  They moved to California to seek a new life.  California was not what they expected.  Their experiences reflected the real experiences of many people.  In writing this story, "Steinbeck was able to familiarize such a complex and interwoven set of events and experiences."  The book was popular and award winning, and this brought awareness of the situation and plight of the migrants.  Well know and influential leaders read it including the First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt who, "upon reading the book, called for congressional hearings that resulted in reform to labor laws governing migrant camps."

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The Grapes of Wrath

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