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The Grapes of Wrath Quotes: Homelessness & Poverty

Instructor: Rachel Hanson
In this lesson, we will learn how Steinbeck shows that the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl environment led to to the poverty and homelessness of thousands of farmers, such as the Joads.

The Setting of The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, the final year of the Great Depression, a ten-year period of severe economic downtown in the United States. Tenant farmers, like the Joads in the novel, suffered during this era. Not only was the Great Depression a time of economic hardship, but for farmers living in the plains, such as Oklahoma, it was an especially difficult time as they contended with severe drought from 1934 to 1937. This drought was so terrible, and the soil so light, that winds across the plains would create massive dust storms. The drought and dust storms of Oklahoma, Texas, and parts of Kansas, New Mexico, and Colorado were so severe that the states became known as the Dust Bowl. Steinbeck begins the novel by describing the evolving drought in the Dust Bowl and the poverty and homelessness it caused for thousands of tenant farmers like the Joads. When the drought set in, the crops failed. When the crops failed the farmers had nothing to sell, and without the income from a crop harvest, farmers could not pay the land owners. Eventually, farmers were forced to vacate their farms and search for work in California. What lay ahead for these farmers, as Steinbeck shows us, was poverty and homelessness.

Dust Bowl image

Empty Houses

In Chapter 11, Steinbeck writes of what happens to the houses the tenant farmers leave behind, and the emptiness of the houses reflects the farmers' homelessness. We know the Joads, like many families, must vacate their homes. Consider the following quote: ''The doors of the empty houses swung open, and drifted back and forth in the wind. Bands of little boys came out from the towns to break the windows and to pick over the debris, looking for treasures. And here's a knife with half the blade gone. And--smells like a rat died there… And on windy nights the doors banged, and the ragged curtains fluttered in the broken windows.'' This passage shows us that the deterioration of unoccupied buildings reflects that of the families, who without without their homes, also suffer and deteriorate.

Poverty's Shadow

The family started their journey with less than two hundred dollars. By the time the Joads arrive in Arizona, they have only forty dollars left. Tom Joad begins to feel the weight and worry of the family's poverty in Chapter 18, when Granma Joad dies while they are still on the road:

Tom said, ''I guess we got to find a coroner, wherever he is. We got to get her buried decent. How much money be lef', Pa?'' '' 'Bout forty dollars,'' said Pa. Tom laughed. '' Jesus, we are gonna start clean! We sure ain't bringin' nothin' with us.'' He chuckled a moment, and then his face straightened quickly. He pulled the visor of his cap down low over his eyes. And the truck rolled down the mountain into the great valley.

Though Tom laughs and attempts to make light of the family's dire circumstances, we understand that the weight of poverty, even in the face of losing Granma, is what casts the larger shadow over his spirits.

Camp Living and Hunger
Camp life

In Chapter 26, we learn that the Joads have been in California for a month and are living in ''The Weedpatch Camp'', and aside from Tom, who found a bit of work, none of the other family members have found jobs. Ma points out that something must be done as the color of Winfield and Rose of Sharon reflects their malnutrition:

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