The Grapes of Wrath Government Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the role of family, community, and federal government during the Great Depression in John Steinbeck's ''The Grapes of Wrath''. We will look at quotes in the novel that illustrate the social governance that operated within in the Joad family and the migrant community. We will also review quotes that describe political changes in the federal government that influenced the lives of the starving working class.

Definitions and Background

Think about some of the unwritten rules you follow. If you finish up the last of a toilet paper roll, you replace it. After shopping, you put your cart away so that it doesn't roll into a car. While these rules aren't enforced by the state, they are a form of social governance that dictates certain things we do for other people. Government is a system that defines the process under which a group of people are controlled. In John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, government encompasses the rules of the family, community, and state/federal entities. This novel is the story of the Joad family who are sharecroppers in Oklahoma that are forced to move west to find work during the Dust Bowl. Let's look at some quotes about government from this novel.

Family Government

When the Joads gather together for an important meeting, Steinbeck refers to it as 'the family government.' He writes, 'And without any signal the family gathered by the truck, and the congress, the family government, went into session' to discuss whether or not Jim Casy, the former preacher, will be invited to travel with them to California. After the meeting, they put Casy to work. The narrator explains, 'Casy got to his feet. He knew the government of families, and he knew he had been taken into the family.' As a member of the family, Casy will be expected to pull his weight, but they will take care of each other.

Political Changes in the Federal Government

Steinbeck describes political changes that are taking place during the Great Depression in the federal government and the reaction of the landowners to it, 'The great owners, striking at the immediate thing, the widening government, the growing labor unity; striking at new taxes, at plans; not knowing these things are results, not causes.' The employers do not understand from their perspective that expanded government and labor unions are the direct result of millions of people who are hungry. The changes that are happening are necessary to keep people from starving to death.

The author compares the current state of government to other political ideologies, both capitalist and socialist, that arose out of necessity. Steinbeck writes, 'If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive. But…the quality of owning freezes you forever into 'I,' and cuts you off forever from the 'we'. The author proposes that if all people worked together it would better all of humankind, but selfish thoughts overtake those who are benefitting from the current economy.

Migrant Camp Government

The people who have gone to California to work join together to form their own communities in the migrant camps, each establishing their own form of government. Among those living in the camps, 'leaders emerged, then laws were made, then codes came into being.' The families realized that part of living as a group meant that they had certain rights and responsibilities to one another. Each family enjoyed 'the right of privacy in the tent; the right to keep the past black hidden in the heart; the right to talk and to listen; the right to refuse help or to accept, to offer help or to decline it; the right of son to court and daughter to be courted; the right of the hungry to be fed; the rights of the pregnant and the sick to transcend all other rights.'

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