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Alienation of Groups in The Grapes of Wrath
Transcript of Alienation of Groups in The Grapes of Wrath
Alienation and discrimination were social problems presented through the course of Steinbeck's novel. By analyzing several passages, we can see examples of this issue, and also reflect on its persistence in modern society.
"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" (pg 33).
The land owners insist that nothing can be done to stop the loss of the tenants' land. The assertion of the inhumanity of the bank system makes the tenants feel helpless; the ambiguous explanation of this massive, prolix organization makes the tenants feel puny, detached, and alienated from their own society.
"They has assailed the buyer, argued; but they were routed when his interest seemed to flag and he had told them he didn't want the stuff at any price...And now they were weary and frightened because they had gone against a system they did not understand and it had beaten them" (97).
Seeing the desperation and poverty of the evicted farmers, businessmen swoop down into the Dust Bowl states. The farmers, backed into a corner of desperation, find themselves cheated, defeated, and confused by foreign men in their own hometowns.
"Once California belonged to Mexico and its land to Mexicans; and a horde of tattered feverish Americans poured in. And such was their hunger that they took the land...The Mexicans were weak and fed. They could not resist, because they wanted nothing in the world as ferociously as the Americans wanted land" (231).
In this summary of the history of California, we see how the natives were deprived of this land and uprooted from their community, alienated from their home and their culture.
"Then sheriffs swore in deputies in droves, and orders were rushed for rifles, for tear gas, for ammunition. Then the hungry men crowded the alleys behind the stores to beg for bread, to beg for rotting vegetables, to steal when they could" (434).
Even as their worsening conditions turn the migrant men mendicant, the people of California grow more hateful of these emigrants, arming themselves against the starving beggars. The migrants not only grow more distant from reality, but more alienated from their humanity as well.
"'Well, you ain't in your country now. You're in California, an' we don't want you goddamn Okies settlin' down.' Ma's advance stopped. She looked puzzled. 'Okies?' she said softly. 'Okies.' 'Yeah, Okies! An' if you're here when I come in tomorra, I'll run ya in'" (214).
This is the characters' first encounter with the term "Okies." The Californians use it to scornfully degenerate the migrant families. At first, the word confuses Ma; eventually, the insult will become familiar to the Joads. It suggests the superiority, hate, and pitilessness the Californians feel towards the migrants' plight. It makes the vagrants feel belittled and dejected.
05.10B A Family's Journey:
The Grapes of Wrath
by Ben Shafer
AP English Lit and Cmp
The Issue Today
In our modern society, many different groups continue to face alienation within their own communities. Bullying is an issue that has received a great deal of attention recently. Peer pressure and harassment can alienate children from their friends and family, often causing depression that sometimes leads to suicide. Racial and gender alienation persist, especially in certain occupations or communities, where demographic imbalances combined with intolerance can lead to a sense of isolation among minorities. A big problem that has grown significantly over the past year or two is religious alienation. In the United States, political rhetoric and foreign incidents have inflated intolerance and skepticism among certain groups. Specifically, American Muslims have been singled out based on overseas terrorism and diplomatic uncertainty. As certain people grow more skeptical and bigoted, Muslims in America face greater pressure of unjust alienation and discrimination.
What can be done?
The alienation of groups is often the result of misunderstanding or bias. People lack solid knowledge about an issue, and are influenced instead by emotions and popular opinions. By making education more accessible for everyone, misunderstanding can be remedied and bias can be dismantled. By offering more diverse, multicultural, educational programs in the social sciences and humanities, we can increase our society's awareness different cultures and beliefs, and therefore increase tolerance for these differences. Urbanization may also gradually decrease alienation, as it can bring people into contact with a more diverse and progressive population.
Although society may often seem cruel or unfair, progress is always being made toward a better future--a future of acceptance, where groups of people are not separated or ostracized within their environment. Every time someone confronts something unfamiliar, they grow more comfortable with the idea of this new concept. Even though it may sometimes seem the opposite, society continues to grow more tolerant of different groups. As Steinbeck says it in
The Grapes of Wrath:
"This you may say of man--when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back. This you may say and know it and know it" (151).