The Grapes of Wrath Quotes: Money, Wealth & Banks

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

In 'The Grapes of Wrath', Steinbeck is critical of banks and wealthy landowners for being exploitative and cruel to the working class, and for causing a division between mankind and the land. Through quotes in the book that relate to the themes of money, wealth and banks, we explore Steinbeck's personification of banks, his depiction of the corrupting influence of money and empathetic portrayal of the poor.

Background

Since The Grapes of Wrath focuses on the Joads, a family of migrant workers who have been forced off their land by the banks and landowners, and who never manage to get back on track after that, it is not surprising that Steinbeck takes a dim view of the entities that have caused their downfall. Throughout the book, we meet countless migrant families who are treated inhumanely both by banks and by wealthy landowners; sometimes it is because the banks are simply indifferent, and other times it is deliberate exploitation by the landowners. The reader is left with the impression that money, or at least the desire for vast amounts of it, begets cruelty.

Banks

Passing the Buck to Banks

Steinbeck often writes about the banks as though they are sentient entities, and not simply institutions created and managed by people. Part of this is because this is how the landowners discuss the banks, like in the following quote: 'If a bank or a finance company owned the land, the owner man said, The Bank - or the Company - needs - wants - insists - must have - as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them.' In this case, the owner feels guilty about evicting families from his land, and cannot bring himself to admit his role in the process. It is easier to insist that the banks are the responsible party, and ignore his part in it. But that is only part of the equation.

Personifying Banks

Banks are also personified as a way of demonstrating that these institutions have grown so important, and have taken on such a role in everyday life, that they are too big for men to control anymore. When it is suggested at one point in the book that a bank is just made of men, implying that men have the power to stop it, this is the response: 'No, you're wrong there - quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. 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.' This still has a whiff of passing the buck, but there is also a bit of truth in it - banks have grown too important to simply overrule without throwing the entire system into chaos. And since banks are only concerned about bottom lines, and not people, they are akin to monsters.

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