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The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck
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Which quote in chapter 7 of The Grapes of Wrath foreshadows the nature of the California dream?

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Most of chapter 7 in The Grapes of Wrath is comprised of internal monologues of used car salesmen frenetically selling jalopies to Oklahoma families wishing to drive to California. Capitalizing on these desperate and impoverished people, the unscrupulous and quick-tongued peddlers push broken-down automobiles on the innocent customers who have...

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Most of chapter 7 in The Grapes of Wrath is comprised of internal monologues of used car salesmen frenetically selling jalopies to Oklahoma families wishing to drive to California. Capitalizing on these desperate and impoverished people, the unscrupulous and quick-tongued peddlers push broken-down automobiles on the innocent customers who have no choice but to purchase these damaged wares in order to escape. The Joads are part of this crowd of migrants fleeing the Midwest to pursue prosperity in California.

The American dream is the idea that any person is free to live and work hard and that hard work leads to success. More specifically in The Grapes of Wrath, the California dream—to the Joads and families like them—is the promise of opportunity, wealth, and sun in the golden state. Supposedly teeming with fertile fields of oranges and grapes—and accompanying jobs—California is a western mecca for migrant workers who wish to escape poverty, obtain work, and become self-sufficient. California represents a dream of wealth, or at least enough money to support basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter.

Yet in reality, as the Joads discover, the California dream is not real. Thousands of other migrant families compete for little available work; landowners advertise more jobs than there really are. In addition to low wages and mistreatment, the workers endure much hardship during and after their journey. They encounter inter- and intra-familial disagreements, cold and harsh weather, and tragic illnesses. When they arrive, the people hoping for a better life instead encounter corrupt bosses and starvation.

A quote describing the car sales lot that foreshadows the nature of the California dream is

Hot sun on rusted metal. Oil on the ground. People are wandering in, bewildered, needing a car.

Supposedly, California is a land of sunshine, symbolizing warmth, light, hope, and prosperity. Instead, it turns out to be unpleasantly “hot,” which emphasizes the tension of the journey; “hot” also characterizes the acrimony among people competing for few jobs as well as between bosses and workers. The fact that the sun shines on corroded or “rusted” metal emphasizes that this dream is no longer valuable, pristine, or hopeful but decaying, corrupt, and hopeless.

Oil is a symbol of wealth, but oil is dirty and requires drilling and destroying the earth to obtain. Steinbeck promoted an agrarian philosophy of living off and close to the land. His diction “oil on the ground” juxtaposes dirty money with natural land; a jalopy may leak oil and spoil the ground just as greed degrades human compassion and relations. Throngs of naïve, misled, and confused migrants believe that a car is their ticket to the promised land; they have no idea of the hardships awaiting them in the golden state. They “wander” to the west and are “bewildered” before and during their trek as well as after their arrival in California.

Finally, as the Joads learn with dismay, Californians cruelly mock the migrants who “wander” into their territory as “Okies.” The “bewildered” migrants are foreigners new to a hostile and strange land that they do not understand and that does not live up to their dream of California.

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