"This land is your land. This land is my land from California to the New York Island…"
In class on Tuesday, we discussed the reactions that the states of California and Oklahoma had about the book. Specifically regarding Steinbeck's portrayal of the treatment and living conditions of the migrant workers. I concentrated on Chapters 25 and Chapter 29 as they painted a general picture of the grey, depressing, hopeless lives of the migrant workers.
When we think of California, what comes to mind? Abundant sunshine, bountiful crops spanning from lemons, peaches, avocados, corn, and cotton, endless vineyards producing full bodied wines, and the notion that every woe, sorrow, and dirty plight when basked in the sun will fade away. This is what the American Dream of "going out west" meant for the Migrant workers. Unfortunately, when they arrived, California was no better than the dustbowl that they had fled from.
Due to the Depression and the falling market prices, all the crops harvested were unable to be sold at value and were then wasted, thrown away, or poisoned by the farmers. The migrant workers, who worked for no money at all, had several mouths to feed back in the boxcar and had not eaten a proper meal since they left their homes in Middle America, were forced to watch as the food was destroyed.
Steinbeck uses phrases such as "there is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation…there is failure that topples all our successes. And the coroners must fill in the certificates -died of malnutrition-because the food must rot, must be forced to rot" (p.349). These phrases are symbolic because they speak inadvertently of the atrocities going on just beyond the new vacation destinations for the "Great American Way". The rotting not only refers to the fruit but to the people who are forced to wither away as the Californian government is not providing relief for them.
Page 434 reverts back to a passage in the first chapter of the men and the red sky and the connection as the day becomes hotter the anger builds up and the women standing behind their men. Now, 400 pages later, the men are still watching, this time not their dried farms but for the "break" in their lives, for a chance to work and amount to something, and to provide for their family. The passage goes on to say that "the fear went from their faces, and anger took its place. And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right - the break had not come and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath" (p.434-5). This is an acceptance of defeat for the migrant workers. There is no work, the government does not and will not provide any aid and their fellow men who in an instant could be in the next tent - despise them and view them as a plague upon the land.
This is without a doubt a call to action piece. Steinbeck, whether he intended on doing so or not, exposed the ills of society and those responsible for doing so. I can see how this book was banned in California and how they felt betrayed by their native son. A book like this would also be bad for the growing tourism industry that California was trying to capitalize on. The line of "…growing heavy for the vintage", I also think this is self-reflexive, as he is a native Californian and spent some time working in the fields. He knows and remembers what life was like pre-Depression and knows the suffering that has occurred. I think the too yearns for the days of old.
Also - I chose this photo as it makes California seem as though the weather and life is perfect year round, when it was completely the opposite.Here is the full version of the travel poster.