Trampling Out The Vintage: Steinbeck's Crusade Against Injustice

1604 words - 7 pages

"This is the beginning, from 'I' to 'we.'" - The Grapes of WrathBread-winning family men were torn asunder from their positions of meager power as the structural integrity of America's economy was undermined from the top down. Only the wealthiest of people remained wealthy. The poorest of people, determined to succeed against all odds, ran themselves quite literally down a path to fermented, rotten, never-ripe failure. The working class men and women, the hands that executed the head's work with the heart's mediation, were the new face of the United States of America. They brought with them a plea for change; political, economic, and social. There was a new economy, a new President, and a ...view middle of the document...

Films like Dr. Bull (1935) with the folksy Will Rogers, validated marginalized communities such as the Italian immigrants and the lower class. It was a powerful validation not just of people, but of Americanism as well, and created a sense of national identity (not like the Nazis though. The Nazi propaganda films weren't quite as rootsy).Additionally, to appeal to these groups which literature and visual arts now spoke for, the media quickly adopted the vernacular, shedding the way English is "supposed" to be spoken, and accurately reflecting the way it was spoken in homes across the nation. This step in technique is just as important as those strides made in subject matter as it positioned literature, a "high art" formerly catering to the high class, firmly and accessibly in the hands of those who now needed it most. Poetry, in the vein of poets such as Langston Hughes, followed this trend. As black poets transitioned from the ongoing Harlem Renaissance and into a more universal New Negro Renaissance, their work began to encompass a "folk voice," a literary use of the popular spoken lexicon (Smethurst 7).Novels, the meat and potatoes of the literary left, were subject to review by many critics from both sides of the political spectrum, who, as well as judging the book stylistically and literarily, tended to judge its character and agenda as well. No work has been more susceptible to these criticisms and praises than the centerpiece of Depression-era literature, "an ugly book as well as angry," John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It embodies all the characteristics I've discussed so far, but what sets it apart was the extraordinary anger that created the spark that ignited a flame that was the greatest propagandist work of the 20th century (this word, "propagandist," has both positive and negative connotations in literary circles). All of these factors combine to create a strong piece, the epitome of all the shifts and quakes which shaped American culture in the 1930s.In late 1938, after having struggled for over a year with his new novel about the migrant workers in California, Steinbeck was "desperately tired," and the flame was in need of refueling: "Steinbeck revisited the migrant camps...He stayed long enough to refuel his anger at those whom he considered their 'murderers': farm barons who lashed out against their workers...Steinbeck's brief stay also convinced him that his novel might serve as a weapon against injustice" (Reader's Digest). It is no doubt Steinbeck's social concern lay with the people; the poignant and dynamic story of the Joads' westward odyssey preceded his political agenda (or, for these intents and purposes, let's say "mission;" "agenda" implies a hidden message, whereas Steinbeck's message was not to be misunderstood), though the work remains acutely conscious of both. He strikes a fair balance, using the great social influence he had to treat the situation responsibly.In his attempt to unify but not generalize the...

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