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Steinbeck's seminal work set against the bleakest of social landscapes leaves his readers with many a lasting image. In Chapter Nineteen, Steinbeck presents a history of his beloved California, explaining that the Mexicans were "weak and fed" and could not resist the power of the American squatters who took their land. In contrast to the ravaged land of Oklahoma which the Joads have left, California is the Biblical "land of plenty" a cornucopia of crops: lettuce, cauliflower, artichokes, potatoes, oranges, strawberries, cantaloupes,tomatoes, beans, and more. Images of the the unrelenting puissance of water are used to describe the migration to California:
And the dispossessed the migrants,flowed into California....And new waves were on the way....
Further in the narrative, set against the fecundity of a rich earth, the Okies drive their old cars into a "rag town" where they live in houses that are
...tents, and weed-thatched enclosures, paper houses, a great junk pile....And when the rain came, the house melted and washed away.
But as the word comes that there was work, the dilapidated cars load again and there would be "a gold rush for work" along the roads where "fields could bear food." While they stay in camps, the migrants plant "secret gardens in the weeds": turnips, carrots, and potatoes,(poor food) planted in the hope that they will not seen. But, one day a deputy sheriff comes to evict them for trespassing.
Thus, in Chapter Nineteen, the imagery contributes to the dichotomy of plenty and want, between the bounty of California with its prolific earth and the Californians, who seek "social success, amusement, luxury, and a curious banking security," and the desperately poor, starving migrants, who seek only work, shelter, food, and food.
Sensory language describes the setting and other elements using the five senses.
Imagery refers to specific sensory details that describe in detail. This descriptive language uses the five senses to fully create the world the book inhabits. Consider the description of “pinnacles and pyramids” and even the “Painted Desert,” which is a name, but is also descriptive.
Look at the descriptions in this brief description.
Down from Flagstaff over the great plateaus, and the road disappeared in the distance ahead…. The sun drained the dry rocky country, and ahead were jagged broken peaks, the western wall of Arizona. (Ch. 18)
The description appeals to our visual senses by describing the great plateaus and the road disappearing, and the effect of the drought on the landscape. The reader can picture what is not described from what is. You can even imagine how the environment would feel physically, to the touch, from the word “dry.” You really feel as if you are there, suffering in the desert along with them.
One of the strongest senses is the sense of hearing, and sound imagery. Although there is dialogue, there are also descriptions of specific sounds that establish the setting, such as the sounds of the meeting.
From some little distance there came the sound of the beginning meeting, a sing-song chant of exhortation. The words were not clear, only the tone. (Ch. 18)
Descriptions of sounds add to the smells, tastes, and textures. A good author balances each of the five senses and creates a balanced world for the reader. These sensory details are complemented by other techniques like figurative language, where similes and metaphors create comparisons instead of directly describing things. The wall in the first quotation was not a literal one, of course, but a comparison in the form of a metaphor. In this way, imagery and figurative language work together to complement the story.
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