John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath during the Great Depression that led to various problems in the United States’ history. The Great Depression lasted from the Black Tuesday’s Stock Market Crash of October 1929 to the Second World War, which got the people working again into the war. During this long time that lasted for about twelve years, a long period of drought and high winds affected a huge part of the American Midwest, which created a phenomenon referred to as the Dust Bowl. Most of the people in the lower Midwest, hoping to find fertile land to settle and lived on it. During this period, millions of young people dreamt of moving to California: the endless sunshine, the booming economy, and the pristine beaches made California seem like paradise to many of these interested youths. The “California Dream” refers to the instantaneous provision of paradise and temporary paradise for the socially oppressed in the society including both the Americans and the immigrants. This term was coined following the California Gold Rush after 1849 that made people believe that they could gain fast wealth and fame once they moved to their new home. The California Dream indicated that the people would get access to great opportunities for success once they arrived in California; get abundance of everything that they ever needed in their oppression, good health, new beginnings as well as freedom from restraints of traditional society to provisions of California. On the other hand, the “California Nightmare” refers to the situation where the immigrants and Americans faced exploitation instead of the expected opportunities; scarcity instead of abundance because of overcrowding; servitude instead of freedom due to the cruel masters in California, rejection by the locals, and death instead of health.
The California dream eventually turned to the California nightmare for the immigrants. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath indicates the transition of the American Dream into this nightmare that left people suffering instead of enjoying as they earlier supposed. Unemployment in California has rapidly grown, people have become more violent and criminal activities thrive, the local authorities also face financial crisis. In John Steinbeck’s book, begins with a description of the conditions of the Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl that ruined harvests and affected the farming of that time. When Tom Joad returns from jail, the banks representatives are evicting tenants from their houses and the tractors to farm the land are being taken from them since they have failed to pay for their bank loans due to the Dust Bowl. Tom and Jim Casy, a former preacher who abandoned his responsibilities as a preacher both reach Joad’s house and realize that it has been deserted, and Muley Graves, a local elderly man inform them that the Joads were evicted and they moved into their uncle’s house.
The people in this movie/novel have the idea of the opportunities in California and move to seek work in California including Muley’s family. However, the author gives the indications of oppressions in California such as the tactics that the car dealers use to exploit impoverished customers. He also explains how the living conditions for the immigrants worsened since they were illegally living in California. People sold their properties to seek greener pastures in California after seeing flyers advertising jobs. Even the preacher believes that working in the fields in California would be beneficial than staying in Oklahoma. The journey to California itself is unpleasant and people die including Grandpa Joad and the dog. Despite the warning from people coming from California that there is no work there, the Joad family disregards and insists on their journey.
When they reach California, the authorities and the locals do not seem friendly and more family members become sick. There is no freedom in California for the immigrants and they are discriminated against in public places, which eventually send Casy to jail as he takes responsibility of Tom’s offences. Despite the seemingly friendly government camp, the police plant strangers to instigate violence. They fail to secure steady work even after staying in the camp for some good time, and decide to continue their journey. However, when they settle at Hopper Ranch and secure some well paying employment, they are also faced with strikes, and reunite with Jim Casy who has returned from jail. Casy dies in the strike wars and Tom kills the man responsible for the former preacher’s death, which makes him run from the authorities. His family leaves the ranch with him to a safer location. To hides in the woods in cotton field up North as his family stays in a boxcar. When tom’s secretes cannot be kept with the family any longer, he fleas away for safety, but vows to return to his family some day. Rose of Sharon suddenly goes into labor after Tom leaves, and they cannot leave despite the rains and she suffers a stillbirth. All these events presented in this novel indicate that despite the imaginations that people had about California dream and the resulting nightmares that they faced in California.
Steinbeck John. The Grapes of Wrath. Oxford: World Publishing Company, 1947. Print