John Steinbeck’s book, The Grapes of Wrath, shows the audience future changes in America, namely the coming Industrial Revolution, and the conflict between the locals and the Okies. These themes are supported by subplots of desperation, hunger, and the upcoming change in America. These subplots are particularly highlighted and illustrated in chapters 11 and 21. Steinbeck begins chapter 11 with a metaphor illustrating the coming change in the United States. The Industrial Revolution was coming and Steinbeck used this metaphor to show how machines would change the way the farmers lived their life.
Steinbeck used this chapter not only for a picture of their vacant homes but as future inference for the coming times of disconnect between farmers and their land. “So easy that the wonder goes out of work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of the land and working it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation” (115) Farming, to Steinbeck, was not just a way that crops were produced, but a lifestyle. Steinbeck understood that the little things mattered to farmers and their industry.
Things like the way that land was worked from generation to generation, the care and dedication that were put into the seasonal turning of the soil, and rotating the crops to make sure the land stayed well. All these things were, for the farmer, not simply for this short benefit, but supported his long term goals. His love for the land caused the land to love him back. Steinbeck understood this relationship between the farmers and the land. The coming Industrial Revolution would change this relationship between farmers and their land. The way of life for these farmers was changing before their very eyes.
The dedication and care that farmers once needed would be swept away. “And in the tractor man there grows the contempt that comes only to a stranger who has little understand and no relation” (115) Steinbeck is touching on the idea that once the farming industry is revolutionized, there would no longer be a need for small family farmers. When the industry is revolutionized, large companies would be able to farm great amounts of land. They would be able to mass produce crops, with little concern for quality, and ultimately, the quality of the soil itself would deplete.
“When the corrugated iron doors are shut, he goes home, and his home is not the land. ” (116) The revolution would not treat the land as sacred, and the close relationship between farmers and their land would be over. In chapter 21 Steinbeck once again illustrates his larger themes using the “migrants” and the changes they undergo during their journey. He uses the migrant’s story to further illustrate his negative feelings towards big industry. In this chapter, he moves along in time to show how big industry is taking away from the country as a whole.
Steinbeck opens the chapter by comparing the farmers who started this journey across the country and the migrants who are on the same journey now. The journey has changed these people before their very own eyes. This was a change that the “Okies” had to make no matter what. These people experienced being hungry for the first time, seeing their children go hungry and not be able to do anything about it. This would undoubtedly change a man forever. Change did indeed occur. The Okies grew angry and mean towards the locals. The local people lived in fear of the Okies.
The locals knew that there was nothing on this earth that could keep the Okies away from their food and land. This began to ferment a problem between the locals and the Okies. “When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it- fought with a low wage. ” (283) This illustrated the fact that one Okie would seemingly always charge less to work than another in order to keep a job. When there are ten men fighting for the job, the wages go from 25 cents to just working for food. This was beneficial for the owner because wages stayed so low.
The Okies didn’t believe their circumstances could become any worse; however they would soon find out how wrong they were. They had no idea of the upcoming problems they would face with the large canneries. “And when the peaches were ripe he cut the price of fruit below the cost of raising it. And as cannery owner he paid himself a low price for the fruit and kept the price of canned goods up and took his profit. ” (283-284) This was a dramatic economic challenge for the Okies. I believe at this point they realize things would never get back to the old ways.
The way they lived their lives would be forever different. They were forced back on the road, and back to search for food. “The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line” (284) “On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment” (284) Steinbeck points towards his feeling that big industry ruined the life of these people forever. The changes that Steinbeck illustrates are not just temporary, but permanent and life changing.
These changes in industry would change the way the entire nation functions. The way people are used to living would be revolutionized. The people who aren’t ready to accept this change or are unaware how to accept these changes would be left behind. When looking back at both of these chapters, and understanding the negative changes, we see some irony in the way Steinbeck structured this book. These small chapters, in between the longer ones, gave Steinbeck a chance to not only give setting, but also to express his opinions of the current state of events though his metaphors.
He used the small chapters of 11 and 21 to depict a scene the Okies were fleeing. They were leaving Oklahoma with the hope that California would somehow save them. “I like to think how nice it’s gonna be, maybe, in California. Never cold. An’ fruit ever’place, an’ people just bein’ in the nicest places, little white houses in among the orange trees. I wonder–that is, if we can all get jobs an’ all work–maybe we can get one of them little white houses. An’ the little fellas go out an’ pick oranges right off the tree. ” (91)
The Okies believe they would find an area of California that would allow them to get back to their old ways of farming, and sadly, this simply would not happen. The Okies were running to a hopeful scene, while this hopeful scene was running from them. “Wonder if we’ll ever get in a place where folks can live ‘thout fightin’ hard scrabble an’ rocks. I seen pitchers of a country flat an’ green, an’ with little houses like Ma says, white. Ma got her heart set on a white house. Get to thinkin’ they ain’t no such country. I seen pitchers like that. “Pa said, “Wait till we get to California.
You’ll see nice country then. “Jesus Christ, Pa! This here is California. ” (204) They begin to realize, there really is nowhere left to run. In conclusion, I believe that in Chapters 11 and 21 the Joads were used as a metaphor for America. The Joads, like much of America, were not ready to accept the upcoming changes, and they were not prepared to deal with the disasters they had along the way. Ultimately, their journey was unsuccessful. They lost members of their family, animals, and friends. The Joads, like much of America, had lost their entire way of life.