Grapes of Wrath – California
Grapes of Wrath Essay
Because of the devastating disaster of the dust bowl, the Joad family was forced to leave their long-time home and find work and a new life elsewhere. They, like many other families, moved to California. “The land of milk and honey”. The people in the dust bowl imagined California as a haven of jobs where they would have a nice little white house and as much fruit as they could eat. This dream was far from the reality the migrant farmers faced once in California. The dreams, hopes, and expectations the Joads had of California were crushed by the reality of the actual situation in this land of hate and prejudice.
The Joads dream of owning a nice white house and being overwhelmed with fruit was quickly put to end after their first night in California. Ma says, “But I like to think how nice it’s gonna be, maybe, in California. Never cold. An’ fruite ever’place, an’ people just bein’ in the nicest places, little white houses in among the orange trees.” They had been lied to by the handbills and other propaganda that was circulating in the dust bowl region. The growers in California knew that the people of the dust bowl would have to leave their houses because of the crisis. They also knew the more pickers they had the lower they could make their prices. The number of handbills sent out far out numbered the number of jobs available. Many people in the dust bowl were constructing a view of California that was devastatingly false. However most of the people had to go somewhere, and all they knew was agriculture, so the natural thing was to go to the only place in the country at that time that was in peak agricultural condition. This was all true in the case of the Joads. They had no experience with any other kind of lifestyle. They were farmers and they thought that was what they would remain. What they became was job hunters, starving and hungry people, and homeless vagrants. California was no dream land, but the exact opposite. A promised heaven that was revealed to be a very real hell.
During the long journey to California the Joads, and other migrant travelers, encountered many warnings of what California was going to be like from migrants who were returning home, mostly destroyed by the true reality of California. They got a warning in the camp they stayed at on the side of the road while Tom, Al, and Casey were fixing the car. There was a ragged man there that told a gruesome story of his experience in California. He told of the land that was good but was not being farmed. He told of the Hoovervilles and dirty living situation of the migrants. He told of how his own children and died because he couldn’t get a job to feed them. He said, “Sompein it took me a year to find out. Took two kids dead, took my wife dead to show me…..”. The Joads were warned again right near the border of California, by the river, where they stop to camp. The men go down to the river to get cool and encounter a man and his son. They tell of how bad it is in California. They are returning home. Of course what the Joads hear doesn’t in the slightest encourage them to turn back. They can’t. Their lives back home have been destroyed by the dust and they only have one chance at a good future. California is that chance. They must keep a good image of her in their minds so they don’t go crazy with fear. It’s not that they don’t believe any of the people, it’s that they don’t fully want to believe. The Joads continued on to California, despite al the warnings on the road they had received, because there was just no other possible future for the family.
Upon entering California the Joads got a glimpse of the unused farm land and their first taste that the rumors they had heard on the road about California, were in fact true. They drove down the road and would gaze at all the land that wasn’t being used to produce food and crop for the people. They were amazed and thought if only they could have just that little bit of land, they would make it great and it would become part of them as theirs was back home. They encountered Hoovervilles. Great camps of migrants. Massive amounts of dirty tents and beat up cars. This would be the migrants only home. They encountered the prejudice towards them from the Californians. “Them Okies? They’re all hard-lookin.”
They witnessed fellow migrants become accused of false crimes just because they weren’t liked. They saw the fear in the people’s eyes that the migrants would one day band together and take that which they wanted of California. It was a situation of magnificent hate and despair. The Californians hated the migrants because they had no jobs and they were dirty and they couldn’t feed their children. The migrants were jobless, homeless, dirty, and too poor to feed their children because California wouldn’t give them a break. The migrants received an undeserved hate. This of course wouldn’t be the first, or last, time in our country this has happened. The last remnants of the dream land the Joads saw as California were now completely eradicated from their minds. Now they saw what was real and what was the way of life they had chosen, or rather been forced into. There was no turning back now.
The dream of California is necessary in the beginning of the book. The dust bowl had taken away much of the pride and courage of the Joad family. They needed something to believe in. They needed a light at the end of the tunnel because if they stayed where they were they would surely have not survived. The Joads couldn’t stay where they were and without a goal to reach, something to look forward to, one just wanders around life aimlessly and hopelessly. They kept the dream alive throughout the journey. Even through the harsh rumors they heard along the road. They still kept that fragment of hope in the back of their heads that California would be everything they hoped it would be. Even in their worst times in California they would still look forward to earning enough money and getting a little white house to live in. Their lives really were destroyed when the dust bowl hit but no one can except those facts so they must tell themselves it will be all right. We will go to California and everything will be even better there than it was here. Unfortunately that wasn’t the reality of the situation and the Joads were forced to deal with that harsh reality once in California and on the hard long journey there. California was no dream land, but rather a sealed fate to a life of fighting for food and watching loved ones die. California was the pain of the migrants summed up in one word.