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The Grapes of Wrath

In John Stenbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the plight of the Okies is depicted through the fictional Joad family.  Forced from their homes because of the twin disasters of Depression and drought, the Joads head towards the modern-day Promised Land, California.  The entire family sets off, along with all of their earthly possessions, in the family truck.  The vehicle comes to symbolize their entire life.  “And the truck crawled slowly through the dust toward the highway and the west”.

The Grapes of Wrath

The first major incident is the death of Grampa Joad, riding in the back of the truck.  In this symbolic journey, a break with the past is happening.  Grandpa represents the part of the old way of life that dies when these people emigrate.  Their trip is dictated by how far the truck can travel in a day.  In his descriptive chapters between the Joad narrative, Steinbeck comes to show these cars and trucks like modern caravans, successors to the Conestoga wagons that crossed the prairies a century before.  “Eyes watched the tires, ears listened to the clattering motors, and minds struggled with oil, gasoline, with the thinning rubber between air and road”. The Okies are bound together along the highway by a similar experience: driven from home in search of a better life.  Their cars become lifelines, the basis for their migrant lifestyle and the single most important object in their existences.

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