The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Maxicours

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Objectifs
  • Découvrir un aspect de la thématique d'étude migration et exil
  • Découvrir un roman primé 
Points clés
  • Les Raisins de la colère est un roman de John Steinbeck primé par le Pulitzer.
  • Il traite des effets ravageurs de la Grande Dépression des années 1930 sur la famille Joad :
    • Expulsés de leurs terres, les Joad émigrent en Californie, perçue comme une terre promise où tout le monde peut travailler et faire fortune facilement.
    • La réalité est toute autre: famine, exploitation, misère... Une lutte en faveur du droit des travailleurs migrants s'engage alors.

The Grapes of Wrath is a novel written by American writer John Steinbeck in 1939. It was such a successful novel that it won the National Book Award the same year and Pulitzer Prize in 1940.

The novel is about the Joads, a poor family who lives in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and who has to leave their hometown with thousands of other Okies for California where they hope to find jobs.

1. The Plot
a. A Forced but Hopeful Departure...

Because the Dust Bowl (a period of storms that damaged the agriculture of the USA and Canada in the 1930s) has destroyed their crops, the Joads cannot pay back their bank loans. So, they have been evicted from their farm and dispossessed of their land. Homeless, they have no choice but to leave the place and hope for a better future in California where jobs and high pay are supposedly offered to workers.

Though Tom Joad, the main protagonist of the story who has just been paroled after being incarcerated for homicide, cannot leave Oklahoma he decides to follow his family and childhood friend, Casy who is also a preacher losing his faith. On their way to California, Tom’s grandparents die and his brother and brother-in-law leave the family as they have heard from farmers returning from California that the place is not the promised land they hoped for.

b. ...for a Promised Land?

As they reach California the remaining migrants are extremely disappointed because they soon realize that there are too many workers trying to find a job and the pay is low. Instead of work, wealth and happiness which would secure the bright future they were looking for, they have to face starvation, harassment and exploitation.

Casy, who cannot stand the situation, becomes a man of action. He decides to organize strikes for a labour union whereas Tom is hired as a strikebreaker. When a strike bursts in a peach orchard where the Joads are working, Casy is violently attacked. In spite of the fact that they are now opposed, Tom kills his friend’s aggressor and he flees. From now on he will work for the oppressed as he understands that Casy was fighting for the rights of migrant workers.

2. California as a Myth

The Joads imagine California as promising because they have never been there and because they have read or heard rumours about this state. But as they travel west they come across people who are returning from California and who explain to them that it is not worth going because they will never find what they are expecting. Yet, they cannot return to Oklahoma because the crops have been devastated by the Dust Bowl and severe drought.

It is the dream of abundance and a better life which pushes them to abandon their homeland and follow the other migrants on the road. But the dream cannot come true as they hear returning Midwesterners talk about starvation and exploitation in California:

The more fellas he can get, an' the hungrier, less he's gonna pay.
(Returning Westerners about starvation and exploitation)

Disillusion has touched the whole part of the country and California is not spared. In spite of the fact that they now know what is expecting them the family keeps heading west. Picking fruit will be their ultimate goal.

3. Conclusion

The Grapes of Wrath clearly depicts the situation of America in the 1930s after the Great Depression which started in America in 1929 and which had devastating effects in the world. Tom Joad’s story is the story of millions of Americans who tried to survive and who would do anything for work. It is one of the most terrible periods of America and John Steinbeck managed to depict the situation admirably. The book was of course cited when the author received the Nobel Prize in 1962.

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