The 1930's were a decade of great change politically, economically, and socially. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl wore raw the nerves of the people, and our true strength was shown. From it arose John Steinbeck, a storyteller of the O kies and their hardships. His books, especially The Grapes of Wrath, are reflections of what really went on in the 1930's. John Steinbeck did not write about what he had previously read, he instead wrote what he experienced through his travels with the migrant workers. "His method was not to present himself notebook in hand and interview people.
Instead he worked and traveled with the migrants as one of them, living as they did and arousing no suspicion from employers militantly alert against "agitators" of any kind." (Lisca 14) John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was derived from his personal experiences and his journeys with the migrant workers. John Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in the town of Salinas, California. Salinas was an agricultural trading center with ties to the farms and ranches in the area. Steinbeck's father, John Steinbeck Sr. , was in the flour-milling business and through it supported his family of three daughters and one son. Steinbeck was a good student and a great writer even at an early age; he wrote stories for his high school paper.
(Lisca 1-4) The experiences that were most influential to Steinbeck were not at school, but instead came from his home and the countryside. He read his mother's books, which included the titles of Crime and Punishment, Paradise Lost and The Return of the Native. Another major influence was the countryside of California that surrounded him all his childhood. He went with Good 2 his family to his mother's family ranch, where Steinbeck was surrounded by nature, and these kinds of trips led him to write such books as "East of Eden" and "The Red Pony." (Lisca 3-5) Later in life, Steinbeck wrote a book called "In Dubious Battle", which made him known as sympathetic to the labor conditions in California. Because of this, Steinbeck accepted assignments to write articles about the migrants working in California. Steinbeck had been aware of the labor problems in his state of California, but for these articles he wanted to experience it firsthand.
For inspiration for his articles, and also what would turn out to be the inspiration for "Grapes of Wrath", he visited the farms outside his native Salinas and also visited the squatter camps near Bakersfield (Lisca 12-14). These visits to the squatter camps led to his creation of the Weed patch camp in "Grapes of Wrath." A few years later, Steinbeck returned to California to write "Grapes of Wrath" and to further research the flawed California labor. "He was not, however, merely researching materials for his next book, but passionately involved in the suffering and injustice" (Lisca 16). His fervor for the migrant cause almost lead him to abandon his recent writing and revise "Of Mice and Men" and sell it so he could donate to money to the migrant workers.
In early September 1936, Steinbeck went back to Salinas to find that there was a violent clash between growers and workers over a strike that resulted in riots and killings. This turned Steinbeck upside down, because now it was not only something happening in California, but was happening in the town where he grew up. While visiting migrant camps that were being flooded by the torrential rain in Visalia, he was filled with anger at the conditions in which these people were living (De Mott 3). The people were living in flooded tents where the people were without food or fire.
The town and the county had stopped giving help because the situation had become too unbearable (De Mott Good 3 xxviii). Here is an excerpt from Steinbeck's personal journal when he was in Visalia in the winter of 1938: I must go over into the interior valleys. There are about five thousand families starving to death over there, not just hungry but actually starving. The government is trying to feed them and get medical attention to them with the fascist group of utilities and banks and huge growers sabotaging the thing all along the line...
In one tent there are twenty people quarantined for smallpox and two of the women are to have babies in that tent this week. I've tied into the thing from the first and I must get down there and see it and see if I can't do something to help knock these murderers on the heads... They think that if these people are allowed to live in camps with proper facilities, they will organize and that is the bugbear of the large landowner and the corporation farmer. The states and counties will give them nothing because they are outsiders. But the crops of any part of this state could not be harvested without these outsiders. I'm pretty mad about it (E.
Steinbeck and Wallsten 158). Steinbeck's experiences in Visalia led to his creation of the torrential rains at the end of "Grapes of Wrath" and also led to his dramatic ending to the main character Tom Joan in the novel (De Mott xxxvi). These experiences also lead to his classic lines talking about the migrant's grapes of wrath, "There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success... in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath.
In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage" (J. Steinbeck 477). He remarked to his agents later saying, "Funny how mean and little books become in the face of such tragedies" (De Mott 3). He wanted this book to be so perfect that he stopped it from Good 4 being sent off so that he could go back and rewrite parts that he saw as flawed. At the book's completion he collapsed and was not allowed to get out of bed, read, or write for weeks. When he agents asked if he would go out and promote his book to increase its sales, he refused feeling that he did not do this book for his personal gain (Lisca 14-17).
Even though Steinbeck did not want to write a popular novel, his book went straight to the top of the best-seller lists and sold 428, 000 copies in about a year (De Mott viii-ix). On January 16, 1939, Steinbeck talked Pascal Co vici about his intentions for the reader: I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags. I don't want him satisfied... I tried to write this book the way lives are being lived not the way books are written... Throughout I've tried to make the reader participate in the actuality, what he takes from it will be scaled entirely on his own depth or hollowness. There are five layers in this book, a reader will find as many as he can and he won't find more than he has in himself.
(De Mott xiii). John Steinbeck was not observing these people's plight, but was instead living and feeling it. Steinbeck could have only been considered an observer in that he did not have to experience it. Throughout his experiences living and working with the migrants he not only became interested or aware of the cause, but he became attached to the cause and it became a part of him. Good 5 Works CitedDeMott, Robert. Introduction.
The Grapes of Wrath. By John Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1939. Lisca, Peter. John Steinbeck: Nature and Myth. New York: Thomas Y.
Cromwell Company, 1978. Steinbeck, Elaine, and Robert Wallsten. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. New York; Penguin Books, 1989 Steinbeck, John.
The Grapes of Wrath. 20 th century ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1939. Steinbeck, John. Working Days: The Journals of Grapes of Wrath. Ed.
Robert De Mott. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.