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," who is blamed for the Joad family losing their farms?

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In John Ford's Grapes of Wrath, Nunnally Johnson (the screenwriter who adapted it from John Steinbeck's novel) explicitly blames companies and banks (captalistic institutions) for their greed and lack of compassion for the working family.

After Muley loses his farm and family, he wants to use his gun for vengeance against someone.  Little does he know that there is no one person responsible for these predatory practices against farmers; instead, it is companies, boards of directors, institutions, conglomorates, banks which use their pawns to do their dirty work, evict families and bulldoze their farms.  Look at the conversation that Muley has with the Man in the car:

MULEY You mean get off my own land? THE MAN Now don't go blaming me. It ain't *my* fault. SON Whose fault is it? THE MAN You know who owns the land--the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company. MULEY Who's the Shawnee Land and Cattle Comp'ny? THE MAN It ain't nobody. It's a company. SON They got a pres'dent, ain't they? They got somebody that knows what a shotgun's for, ain't they? THE MAN But it ain't *his* fault, because the *bank* tells him what to do. SON (angrily) All right. Where's the bank? THE MAN (fretfully) Tulsa. But what's the use of picking on him? He ain't anything but the manager, and half crazy hisself, trying to keep up with his orders from the east! MULEY (bewildered) Then who *do* we shoot? THE MAN (stepping on the starter) Brother, I don't know. If I did I'd tell you. But I just don't know *who's* to blame!

Steinbeck's gripe against capitalism is similar to that of Kafka's in The Castle: beaurocracy alienates the individual by using the "system" to hide greed and corruption.  After all, it's much easier to evict a family miles away from an office using a legal writ than it is face-to-face.

Just as K., the protagonist in Kafka's novel, never gains access to the castle or finds out who is responsible for the absurd governing practices, so too is Muley fed a line by the Man about who to blame.  In the end, institutions hide behind legalism and opportunists who will stiff the little guy as part of an elaborate shell game to deflect blame and responsibility.  Just ask Bernie Madoff!

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