Discussion notes: Chapters 19-21 “We ain’t foreign.”: –Some critics charged Steinbeck was racist in the implication that the migrant farmers were somehow better than the Filipinos or Mexicans that had traditionally made up California’s agricultural workforce, simply because the farmers were white Americans. –However, the broader issue went beyond race and to the changing social landscape: Now it wasn’t just foreigners who were being oppressed.
Discussion notes: Chapters 19-21 Anger –Landowners hate the Okies. The storeowners hate the Okies. The native California workers hate the Okies: “These goddamn Okies are dirty and ignorant.” –The Okies are getting angry: “A fallow field is a sin, and the unused land a crime against thin children.” –In a land of plenty, they are starving.
Discussion notes: Chapters 19-21 Steinbeck says the landowners ignored the three cries of history: 1. When property accumulates in too few hands, it is taken away from the many. 2. When a majority of people are hungry and cold, they will take by force what they need. 3. Repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.
Discussion notes: Chapters 19-21 What Casy finally learns in jail after giving himself up to save Tom and Floyd is that man’s spiritual brotherhood must express itself in social unity. He becomes a labor organizer.
Discussion notes: Chapters 22-26 Chapter 25 details the deliberate destruction of the harvests in order to keep prices up, while children are starving to death. In arguably the most emotionally powerful statement in the book, Steinbeck refers to this as a “crime that goes beyond denunciation” and “a sorrow that weeping cannot symbolize.” “In the eyes of the people there is the failure; and 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 for the vintage.”
Discussion notes: Chapters 22-26 “Well, they was nice fellas, ya see. What made em’ bad was they needed stuff. An’ I begin to see, then. It’s need that makes all the trouble. I ain’t got it worked out.” Casy’s last words: “You fellas don’t know what you’re a- doin. You’re helpin’ to starve kids. You don’t know what you’re doin.” Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
Discussion notes: Chapters 22-26 Steinbeck’s depiction of extreme poverty is not without relevancy today. In his time, homelessness and despair existed within the larger context of the Depression, and the general public was, for a while at least, genuinely touched and angered by the suffering of migrants.
Discussion notes: Chapters 22-26 Today, some argue that prosperous Americans seem all too willing to accept the presence of homeless people on the streets and a desperate “underclass” in the ghettos.
Discussion notes: Chapters 22-26 The pursuit of money is a perfectly legitimate activity in our society: It is the basis of capitalism. But what happens when, in the quest for the dollar, human values are forgotten? –In the context of the novel, banks force people from their homes; big farmers eat up little farmers; landowners exploit workers. At what point does the pursuit of money turn into a crime?