Inequality and Exploitation in The Grapes of Wrath

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The child says to his father Why do we have nothing to eat? His father replied Because other men have taken so much for themselves that there is none left for us. Inequality dates back to the beginnings of civilization. Ever since the moment one man discovered a way to have more food than another man, humanity was set on an irreversible course for economic disparity.

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John Steinbeck is no stranger to the grim situations of the poor. In his novel The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck tells the story of poor laborers in the Dust Bowl/Great Depression era. They face economic and social inequality that deprives them of their humanity and forces them to resort to desperate measures to keep their families fed. These crimes against humanity breed anger among the laborers, and this anger will eventually turn to wrath as they lash out against their oppressors and retake the means to keep themselves alive and well, as well as restore their dignity. Steinbecks story is an exceptionally Marxist one, with migrant farmers serving as the proletariat, and banks and land barons serving as the bourgeoisie. By analyzing The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck through the Marxist critical lens, the reader better understands the plight of migrant farm workers in Great Depression era California.

The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joads, a family of tenant farm workers in Oklahoma. Driven from their home by intense drought, changing economic tides, and foreclosure on their house, they pack up and seek a new life in the famous land of milk and honey, California. Along the way they meet many other migrants in similar circumstances; families share what they have and seem to become as one family. The Joads arrive at their destination many family members short, as several either pass away or abandon the family for their own, mostly selfish reasons. Their Promised Land, however, is not the haven they expected: an over-supply of labor forces migrants to compete with each other for wages. The Joads manage to find enough work around several counties to stay alive until Tom, the eldest son and leader of the family, kills a vigilante strikebreaker in anger. Tom is forced to go into hiding. Eventually Tom tells his mother that he is going to help organize workers, push back the system that keeps them down, and bind his soul to that of all oppressed people. With this promise, he leaves. The remaining Joads carry on with their lives through tragedy and sorrow, but remain hopeful, because they are a part of the greater family of all migrant workers who can share the weight of their sorrow.

The Marxist critical theory sees the contents of literature involving class conflict as results of economic tensions.

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