John Steinbeck wrote in his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath: And then the dispossessed were drawn west- from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Carloads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land. This, just a small excerpt from Steinbecks novel, depicts the hardships and struggles that farmers faced during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The Grapes of Wrath is an excellent source of information for this time period and includes historical facts, themes, and intricate details of living conditions of the migrant farmers.
John Steinbecks portrayal of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl is quite accurate. His descriptions of the Dust Bowl, the causes and what the bowl looked like, were precise according to Alan Brinkleys text, The Unfinished Nation. Steinbeck and Brinkley both wrote that the worst drought in history had struck the Great Plains and lasted for a decade in the early 1930s.
And at this time farmers had been tempted by high crop prices, which lead them to plow up the grass for more crop room and kept working the same crop, which eventually exhausted the soil. This and the lack of rainfall turned these regions into virtual deserts, and the great winds caused the dust to blow across the plains in clouds. Steinbeck went into great detail describing what this had looked liked. In his novel he described the Dust Bowl: The wind increased, steady, unbroken gusts. The dusts from the roads fluffed up and spread out and fell on the weeds besides the fields .
. . the sky was darkened by the mixing dust, and the wind felt over the earth, loosened the dust, and carried it away. For the people living in these devastated lands, this was a very accurate account as to what the weather was like for weeks and months.In The Grapes of Wrath the story followed the Joad family from their home in Oklahoma to California. They were forced to leave their home behind in search of work and land.
Along the way migrant farmers, like the Joads, faced food shortage, death, homelessness, Hoovervilles, and unemployment. According to lecture and Brinkleys The Unfinished Nation, Steinbeck was precise in his descriptions of the events that he placed in his novel. Migrant farmers would leave their land behind in search of work.
They would auction off all their belongings to raise money for their journeys that were to take weeks or months to head out west. Okies, a term that was used in Steinbeck and Brinkleys writings, would often find harder times then what they had left. Disease along with starvation lead to many farmers deaths before even reaching the great land they were in search of. Camps along side the roads grew to little towns, known as Hoovervilles. Hoovervilles were named after Herbert Hoover because during his presidency, his actions caused poor economic conditions in the early 1930s. All the migrant farmers could do was wander from town to town looking for work or any kind of relief.
For the most part, migrant farmers never found what they were looking for out west and were lucky if they could pick fruit or other crops at very low wages that could never support a family.Steinbecks most prevalent theme in The Grapes of Wrath was to never give up on your dream. The Joad family from the get-go was not given a good hand. They were forced to leave their land with very little money, all of the belongings they could fit into a small truck, including 13 family members, little food, and a long journey ahead. Ma Joad was the center of the family keeping them together with her dream, their dream, of a better life out west.