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America is "considered" to be a land of opportunities, promises, independence, hope, and freedom. Anyone can grow up to be the President of the United States, member of Congress, or even become wealthy. This is possible because all it takes hard work. However, this is nearly "just a dream" because equality doesn't exist among everyone. The poor have little to no chance to get richer, while the rich remain rich. As President Woodrow Wilson once said in his New Freedom campaign, "American enterprise is not free; the man with only a little capital is finding it harder and harder to get into the field, more and more impossible to compete with the big fellow. Why? Because the laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak." America is often considered as the "best country" in the world, but behind this façade, many people struggle daily to earn enough money to survive. These intriguing ideas are shown in the "great American novel," The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The novel is the "great American novel" because it depicts the true nature of the American way of life; a way of life rampant with laissez-faire capitalism and constant struggle.
The American way of life is as an expression that refers to theÂ lifestyleÂ of people living in theÂ United States of America. It is an example of aÂ behavioralÂ modality, developed from the 17th century until today. It refers to aÂ nationalist ethosÂ that purports to adhere to principles of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" according to Babylon.com. America has been associated with notion of a land of endless opportunities and freedom. For example, people are able to pursue their dreams of being an athlete, doctor, teacher, actor, or musician. This idea of endless opportunities isn't true for everyone. The poor have little chance of straying away from their life to become rich and live the American Dream. Many people associate the United States with word "freedom" yet, it doesn't exist among everyone. On a daily basis people are judged based on their ethnicity, how you look, and what you wear. America is supposed to be "the" land where individuals can express themselves and be happy without judgment; it is anything, but contradictory to this idea. Americans like to think that material possessions define our position in society. The more "expensive" materials a person has, the higher they think they are up on the social level. The American way of life is a notion associated with happiness, but behind the façade there are constant struggles in daily life.
In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck was able to portray the American way of life in a more realistic way. It tells the story of the Joad family, a group of sharecroppers from Oklahoma, decision to migrate to California in hopes of finding a high-wage job. The Joads were forced from their land because of nature (Dust Bowl) and the economic situation during the 1930s. The effect the Dust Bowl caused was shown in Steinbeck description in chapter one, "An even blanket covered the earth. It settled on the corn, piled up on the tops of the fence posts, piled up on the wires; it settled on roofs, blanketed the weeds and trees" (Steinbeck, 3). The over cultivation and drought had turned the fertile land into a barren wasteland. The outcome of the situation is if affected many migrant farmers. The Joads along with other migrant workers faced many hardships on their journey west in to live the American way of life. The American way of life doesn't come without struggles.
The first struggle the Joad family and other migrant workers faced was obtaining enough money to buy the materials needed to head west. The Joads had to sell most of their possessions and in returned they got two hundred dollars. They spent almost half of that money to buy a "jalopy" car to head west. As Pa Joad described to Tom Joad, the oldest sibling and ex-convict, "Damn ol' tires on this here truck ain't gonna go far. Got a couple of wore out spares. Pick stuff up along the road, I guess" (Steinbeck, 83). This is an example of laissez-faire capitalism. The businessman took advantage of every chance they got to exploit the impoverished buyers. The used car sales representative lured a family to buying a car by telling them, "Here's jus' what you need. Looks shot, but they's thousan's of miles in her" (Steinbeck, 66). The car salesmen knew that they wouldn't make a profit if they sell long-lasting cars. Instead of the government looking out for the common good of the people, they allow the business owners to control of the situation. The farmers have no other choice but to the jalopy cars, even though they know that they were being taken advantage. The buyers were being exploited by sales tactics they don't know such as covering the noises by pouring sawdust, covering balding tires, and repaint them to look brand new. Business creates greed, thus these car salesmen have no sympathy toward the migrants because all they cared about was how much money they profited at the end of the day. Thus, to achieve the American way of life sometimes people have to take advantage of others and they become barbaric towards others and lose common sense of how one should treat another. The need for money turns into greed which then turns into loneliness. Happiness doesn't depend on how much money a person has because it has to come from inside out.
Another prominent idea that Steinbeck criticizes that the Joads and migrant workers struggle with is the "monsters" and tractors. As Steinbeck describes the bank in chapter 5, "The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it" (Steinbeck, 33). The bank (monster) will never be satisfied with what it has because it is always in "need" to gain more money. Since the bank is not human being it is difficult for a human to understand it motives. This left little hope for any of the migrant workers to have a stable home because the "monsters" were always out to find new territory to gain. Also, Steinbeck describes the tractor driver was a contributing factor to the struggle the families faced. "Three dollars a day. I got damn sick of creeping for my dinner - and not getting it. I got a wife and kids. We got to eat." (Steinbeck, 37). The tractor driver turned against the people who were his "own" kind. He was forced to do this because of the hard times and he needed to find a way to feed his family. All this reveals that capitalism was very alive back then. The banks didn't care about who they stepped on to keep gaining profits. The businessmen and banks ran the country, rather than the government. The businessmen justified what they were doing was for the good of the people.
Steinbeck was also able to portray the struggles of the American way of life through the deaths of the Joad family member. Grampa Joad died shortly after the family arrived at the first at the first site along the road. As a result, the family was put in a dilemma; they could've either buried near the campsite by themselves (breaking the law) or they can pay fifty dollars for a proper burial. According to "Thanatopsis," by William Bryant, it doesn't matter how they bury him because he will be returned to nature. A part of life consists of dying, it doesn't matter rich or poor everyone eventually returns to the soils of nature. Through the death of Grampa, Ma Joad realizes a part of the American way of life is ones obligation to help one another in a time of need. "Each'll help each, an' we'll all git to California" (Steinbeck, 148). Ma was able to realize that even though during these times everyone was left to survive for themselves, if people came together it would be easier to fight back against the repression by the corporations. The reality of the American way of life is owners want the people who are repressed stay repressed because if they band together they will cause chaos; thus, the laissez- faire capitalism will be replaced with a democratic one.
Ma Joad struggled to tell the family members about Granma Joad's death. Ma Joad had to come to terms with Granma's death and the fact that she is no longer with the family. While Ma was talking to Pa she explained why she couldn't tell the family immediately: "I tol' Granma we couldn' he'p her. The fambly had ta get acrost. I tol' her, tol' her when she was a-dyin'. We couldn' stop in the desert" (Steinbeck, 228). Granma death was important because it enabled the Joads to enter California. A part of the American way of life is moving on after someone's death. People must go on living their life because we don't live forever we have to make the most of our opportunities.
A part of the American way of life is dreaming big and trying to achieve that dream. The Joad family had high hopes of how life was going to be once they got to California. Rose of Sharon, Tom younger sister, and her husband Connie had high hopes once they arrive in California. Rose of Sharon told Ma Joad about her aspirations, "Connie gonna get a jobâ€¦And he's gonna studyâ€¦Connie says I'm gonna have a doctorâ€¦the baby'll have new stuff" (Steinbeck 164-165). America is a land of "endless opportunities," but what Rose of Sharon didn't realize these dreams were unattainable because jobs were hard to find in California. Ma Joad also has dreams of living in "them little white houses" (Steinbeck, 91). Ma Joad ignorance along with the rest of the families leads them to believe that California will be the "land of opportunities" for the family. American is a land where an individual can pursue his/her dreams, but realistically there are limitations depending on the situation in which dreams can come true.
Once the Joads and other migrant workers got to California they struggled to find a job. The perception of California wasn't what the family envisioned it was before they got there. The California farm owners had handed out handbills to migrant workers in order to get workers to head west. Ma explains to Tom her worries about the handbills, "Tom, I hope things is all right in California. Seems too nice, kinda. I seen the han'bills pass out, an' how much work they is, an' high wagesâ€¦I'm scared of stuff to nice" (Steinbeck, 90-91). If something is too good to be true, it probably is. There is always something left out. The handbills handed out to the migrant workers were just another tactic owners used to take advantage of the "ignorant" farmers. The Joads finally realized this once they got to California and found a job. Tom finally heard a glimpse of what life was really like in California while having a conversation with the man returning from California to Panhandle, " Okie means your're a scum. I hear there's three hundred thousan' of our people- an' livin' like hogs, 'cause everything in California is owned" (Steinbeck, 206). Although members of the Joad family heard stories of migrant farmers coming back home from California, they still decided to go to see it for themselves. Many migrants had high hopes in California from the allusions of the handbills. As a result, of trying to achieve the American way of life people sometimes want to experience the situation firsthand before they believe the truth.
The Joads also had to face the daunting task of movement from one camp to another to find work. They first arrived at the government camp the Joads were surprised by the conditions because it had running toilets and hot water. This wasn't like other camps in California. The first thing Tom questioned when he got there was if there was going to be cops. The man at the government camp responded by saying, "Central Committee keeps order an' makes rules" (Steinbeck, 287). The reason why there weren't more places like the government camps was people would be used to be treated like humans; thus if they go back to the squatter camps they would be hard to handle. This was another example of were trying to control the migrate workers. This was shown in Tom conversation with Timothy and Thomas Wallace, men who offered to help Tom find a job at the place they work at, and Mr. Thomas, who the Wallaces work for, "The Association don't like the government camps. Can't get a deputy in there. Now if there was a big fight and maybe shootings-a bunch of deputies could go in and clean the camp" (Steinbeck, 296). The businessman and police are working together to keep the power out of the hands of the people and into their own hands. They tried to break up the picketers by using force. It is easier to repress an individual or small group of workers than a group of people who come together to fight for a common cause. The American way of life is associated with freedom; yet, these migrant workers had anything but freedom because corporations were always trying to oppress them.
The Joads were forced to find another camp site that offered work. After a whole day of work the family earned one dollar. At the store, Ma realizes the prices were higher than in town. The store clerks responded by saying, "If we was buyin' it, why it would be different" (Steinbeck 374). The corporation was trying to keep as little money from the migrants as possible. Thus, the migrant farmers will be in need of money and willing to work for low wages.
Steinbeck also portrayed the struggle of the American way of life through the changed of power from men to women. The traditional way of American life associated men as being the provider and women as the caretakers. Instead, Ma Joad had asserted her dominance as the leader of the family through their journey to California. During Pa Joad and Ma Joad conversation, Pa said "Seems like time is changed. Time was when a man said what we'd do. Seems like women tellin' now" (Steinbeck 352). A woman is able to handle an emotional situation better than a man because man show their authority through their work. Though men temporarily lose their control they have on their family they never break down throughout the story because they are always thinking of ways to overcome the repression.
Lastly, Steinbeck was able to show how the paradoxes industry had on the American way of life. Industries were supposed to make lives better and simpler. There would be a potential for profit and ownership. With the potential money earned, people would be able to buy the house, car, and material they want to achieve the American way of life. As describe in chapter 21, "There in the Middle and Southwest had lived a simple agrarian fold who had not changed with industry, who had not farmed with machines or known the power and danger of machines in private hands" (Steinbeck, 282). The irony of the situation is industrial machines actually destroy lives of the people they replaced. Also a man driving a tractor has no connection with the land compared to a farmer who farms the land. As a result, the man driving the tractor turns into a "careless man" because he has become a "robot" who has no connection with the Earth. A man who farms the land on the other hand, has feeling for the land, nurtures the land, and loves the land. Technology may help a person gain profit and be a step closer to obtaining the American Dream, but lives are also destroyed during the process.
In conclusion, John Steinbeck's "great American novel," The Grapes of Wrath, illustrates the true nature of the American way of life; a way of life that is controlled by the laissez-faire capitalism and constant struggles. The Joad family along with many other migrant workers faced the daunting task of overcoming the repression from corporations. Through all the hardships, such as owners burning their food and watching people die of starvation to create supply and demand, the migrant workers still had dreams that California would be the "land of opportunities" that offered high wages, jobs, and start of a new life. The American Dream is always in the minds of people. A person can never know truly when the American Dream is fully achieved because once a person owns something it causes a person to want more and more because of ownership.