John Steinbeck Questions and Answers

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Why did John Steinbeck write the Grapes of Wrath? Is John Steinbeck a fanatic socialist or do you have a reliable source that tells that he wrote the book for other reasons than telling the human being that communism or hands on economics capitalism is the best type of society?

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Steinbeck was a supporter of the rights of the individual, the "little guy" and he commiserated with the farmers who were the big losers in the Dust Bowl phenomenon of the 1930s.

Ultimately, Steinbeck probably wrote The Grapes of Wrath to promote social consciousness and awareness of the plight of the poor, migrants who were displaced during the Depression.

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John Steinbeck also embraced the philosophy of the Transcendentalists, especially Emerson who propounded the concept of the "Oversoul."  While men are, indeed, individuals, they do need to work with each other.  In Chapter 8 of his seminal work, "The Grapes of Wrath," Steinbeck's character Jim Casey expresses this idea of men in harmony with nature, working together for the good of all; doing so is something holy and accomplishes much.

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Is it possible to work together in society and still live individual lives? Of course! Steinbeck did not devalue the idea of individualism; he valued and respected the individual. What he rejected was an economic system in which those with money and power exploited and abused those without means and influence. This was the same philosophy that once drove emigrants from the Old World into the American colonies. (Read Crevecoeur's "Letters from an American Farmer.")

When The Grapes of Wrath was published, it laid bare the abuse of economic power as Steinbeck observed it, personally. Naturally, those who wielded that economic power (especially in Oklahoma and California where the book was banned) were outraged because their practices had been challenged. Often, when working men and women seek to form a union to even the odds and better their working conditions, those in power cry "Socialism!" In Steinbeck's time, they cried "Communism!" Discussions of socialism and communism, of course, serve to divert attention from the real issues.

Steinbeck believed in the individual and the individual American Dream. Look at George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men. They did not dream of working in a commune, side by side with others; they wanted a piece of land that belonged to them where they could live their individual lives in peace and security.

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John Steinbeck grew up in the area around Salinas, California. Although his parents were not poor, Steinbeck witnessed many of the injustices forced upon migrant farm workers who were coming from states like Oklahoma. These migrant worker were former sharecroppers who had lost their farms in the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. When published in 1939, the book was severely criticized for being a "socialist" or "communist" novel. This was because the government camp depicted in the novel and the idea that people should work together for the common good, was thought of as a communist idea. The novel was even criticized on the floor on Congress. However, in order to research the novel, Steinbeck traveled with some of the "Oakies" and saw the poor treatment they were given in many towns where their labor was vital to the agricultural industry. Today, many of Steinbeck's "socialist" ideas do not seem radical at all. The idea that men need to work together for the common good is receiving even more attention now that the world's economic situation and global warming pose a danger to all of mankind. Instead of being a labeled a radical socialist, Steinbeck is now thought of as someone whose ideas should be recognized as foreseeing solutions to even larger problems.

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melissa1106 | Student

Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath to make people aware of what was going on in the 1930s during the Great Depression. He describes the conditions of the dust bowls and how the crops were going south due to the drought and dust. He believed in the american dream and supported local farmers.

epollock | Student

John Steinbeck wrote "Grapes of Wrath" probably to say that ooppression will lead to wrath but also that workers shall be redeemed through cooperation. It does not have anything to do with losing our individuality.

chgj | Student

But what is the message - is the message that people should join together and work together as one big thing instead of living individual lives we should live a life where we help one another getting the best out of it. That economy works best with hands on economy as Keynes predicted?