The Grapes of Wrath Inhumanity 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 quotes from John Steinbeck's ''The Grapes of Wrath'' that focus on the inhumanity that is faced by the displaced sharecroppers during the Great Depression.

Background and Definitions

'Oh, the humanity!' is a quote that was made famous by journalist Herb Morrison when he witnessed the Hindenburg disaster while on air. Inhumanity is treating others viciously as if they are less than human. As the Joad family is displaced from the home in Oklahoma and unwelcomed in California where they hope to begin a new life, they face inhumane treatment from a variety of sources. Let's look at some examples of inhumanity by examining quotes from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

Displacing the Sharecroppers

At the beginning of the novel, the Joads are sharecroppers on land that they once owned, but was taken over by the bank. When the bank realizes they can make more money off of the land with tractors than with sharecroppers, the sharecroppers lose their homes. No one wants to take responsibility for this decision because it is so terrible. The narrator writes, 'It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.'

What is even more shocking is when the sharecroppers learn that it is one of their own that has been employed by the bank to destroy their homes. They ask him how he can do this when 'for your three dollars a day fifteen or twenty families can't eat at all. Nearly a hundred people have to go out and wander on the roads for your three dollars a day.' The driver responds that he can't think about them because he can only think of his own family.

In the presence of an entire family, the tractor driver intentionally 'bit into the house-corner, crumbled the wall, and wrenched the little house from its foundation so that it fell sideways, crushed like a bug.' It is beyond imagination that a person could destroy their neighbors' home and leave them homeless in front of the children who live there, but the tractor driver blinds himself from the reality of the damage he causes to benefit his own family.

Taking Advantage of the Disadvantaged

The Joad family and many others have very few options available to them. They can remain homeless in Oklahoma or they can sell everything they own and move to California, where they have been told they can find work. To move, they will need a vehicle. The used car salesmen see a great opportunity to take advantage of them. The narrator describes, 'Owners with rolled-up sleeves. Salesmen, neat, deadly, small intent eyes watching for weaknesses. Watch the woman's face. If the woman likes it we can screw the old man.' Frequently, they pour sawdust in the engine to hide any knocking sounds. Fortunately, Al Joad knows a lot about cars and can check it out.

They merchants who buy their property also try to cheat the people who do not have a choice but to sell all of their things at ridiculously low prices. Pa says, 'When I was in the hardware store I talked to some men I know. They say there's fellas comin' in jus' to buy up the stuff us fellas got to sell when we get out. They say these new fellas is cleaning up. But there ain't nothin' we can do about it.' When there is someone in trouble, there is always someone there to exploit them.

Unwelcome in California

The Joads hope that they will find a better life, but they learn very quickly that they will not be welcome in their new home. Along the way, they meet a fellow Oklahoman who has given California a try, but is on his way home. He says, 'Well, Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you're scum.' He explains that the Californians are afraid that the hungry migrant workers are going to steal from them so they're not nice.

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