How does California seem to modern America? Violent. Crowded. Filled with bad people. People who live in cities and have lost touch with the earth. These people are portrayed in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath as Californians. Yet, people from the Midwest flocked to California seeking prosperity and opportunity. Their land had been taken by the banks and turned into cotton fields. They were left homeless and desperate. These people sought to work in the fields where they could eat a peach or sit under a tree to relax.
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But there wasn’t a California as they had imagined. In fact, the world they entered into when they arrived in California was a cold one. The locals excluded the newcomers and forced them to leave. The locals tormented the foreigners, calling them Okies’ and telling them that they are unwanted. There was no work and when there was, the workers were underpaid and forced to work for low wages. California was hell. But John Steinbeck creates this novel to fit the “romance” archetype.
In this archetype, the hero makes a journey, encounters problems in his path which he overcomes, and reaches his final destination. The hero of the novel must be larger than life, strong, and different from others. He must be a natural leader and greatly glorified. The earth resembles the Garden of Eden, or a paradise. ‘ He must be in touch with the earth. The Grapes of Wrath has many obvious connections to the romance archetype, and many subtle connections. One of the more obvious connections is the journey. The main characters, the Joads, embark on a journey from Kansas to California.
In the 1930’s Kansas was in the Dust Bowl’, a part of the Midwest where the land dried up, causing fierce dust storms that could kill people. California, on the other hand, was the beautiful, fertile valley, where people could pick peaches, become prosperous, and eventually buy a house to settle down. The fact that the Joads traveled from a terrible place to a better place fits the romance archetype. This better place they search for is the connection to the earth that they once had in Kansas. They envision that they can find it in California as well.
The characters show an obvious connection to the archetype. The romantic hero in this novel is Tom Joad. Tom is larger than life. On the trip he is the leader of the family, even superior to his father. Tom is feared and respected, for he had once killed a man in a fight. “Al tried to control his question. Did-did you bust out? Of jail? ‘ No,’ said Tom. I got paroled. ‘ Oh. ‘ And Al was a little disappointed. ” In the previous quote, Tom’s brother, Al, looked up to Tom so much that he had expected him to escape. Tom is the older brother and therefore the most respected.
When the father of the man Tom killed threatened to kill Tom, Tom’s grandfather said, “Don’t mess around with no Joad… You lay your sights anywheres near Tommy and I’ll take it and ram it up your ass. ” Tom knows about cars, Tom knows if people are lying, and isn’t afraid to stand up for himself. Tom was always a fighter, as his mother said about him when he wanted to stop the banks from taking his house, “Tommy, don’t you go fightin’ em alone. They’ll hunt you down like a coyote. ” The other characters in the text are glorified and larger than life.
All the characters seem muscular, which fits the archetypal pattern of a Romantic hero: “And she wrung out overalls and shirts, and the muscles of her forearms corded out,” “The sleeves of his shirt were tight on his forearms, held down by the bulging, powerful muscles. ” The other family members are also respected and praised during the text. They make wise statements, so they appear intelligent. Ma was smart in a natural way, not from education: “You can cook little stuff in a big kettle, but you can’t cook big stuff in a little pot. ”
Compare California to Kansas. On the first page of the text, Steinbeck describes the land and the animals, such as gophers. The first animals the Joads see in California are a rattlesnake (which Tom kills) and a dog (which gets hit by a car). But California was certainly a paradise, no matter how much evil occurred there. It was the “Eden,” which refers to the romance archetype once again. This California is described as a place where, “it’ll be different out there-plenty work, an’ ever’thing nice and green, an’ little white houses an’ oranges growin aroun’.
Although the terms evil’ and Eden’ seem to contradict themselves, there is a reason for the evil in California. The reality of California is best described by a man who was leaving the state: “She’s a nice country. But she was stole a long time ago. You git acrost the desert an’ come into the country aroun’ Bakersfield. An’ you never seen such purty country-all orchards an’ grapes, purtiest country you ever seen. An’ you’ll pass lan’ flat an’ fine with water thirty feet down, and that lan’s layin’ fallow. But you can’t have none of that lan’. That’s a Lan’ and Cattle Company.
An’ if they don’t want ta work her, she ain’t gonna get worked. You go in there and plant you a little corn, an’ you’ll go to jail! … Sure, nice to look at, but you can’t have none of it. They’s a grove of yella oranges-an’ a guy with a gun that got the right to kill you if you touch one. They’s a fella, newspaper fella near the coast, got a million acres-. ” The owners of the farms in California were the root of the evil. In the romance archetype, the romantic hero must be in touch with the earth. The people who drift from the close connection between themselves and the earth become evil and corrupt.
An example of this theory would be that of the human race and the main character, Wang Lung, in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. According to the archetype, the human race was happiest during the Romantic Age. This would be the time of Adam and Eve. After Adam picked the forbidden fruit, and man started to use nature and not respect it, man started being corrupt. In the modern world, people who are close to the earth are labeled as hippies’ and are dismissed. In The Good Earth, Wang Lung starts out as a poor farmer, and slowly accumulates a large amount of wealth.
When he was a farmer, he could forecast the weather for the day just by sticking his head out the window. But when he had a large house, servants, a prostitute, and never had to work in the fields, he turned evil and bad things happened to him. When he parted completely from the land, he was doomed. This same theory goes into effect with the farm owners and the Joads. All the events that happen to the Joads after they leave their farm are bad. Casy said about Grampa, “He was foolin’, all the time. I think he knowed it. An’ Grampa didn’ die tonight.
He died the minute you took im off the place [the farm]… Oh, he was breathin’, but he was dead. He was that place, an’ he knowed it. ” Steinbeck goes into detail when describing these evil kings of the land. “Once California belonged to Mexico and its land to the Mexicans; and a horde of tattered feverish Americans poured in. And such was their hunger for land that they took the land-stole Sutter’s land, Guerrero’s land, took the grants and broke them up and growled and quarreled over them, those hungry men; and they guarded with guns the land they had stolen…
And it came about that owners no longer worked on their farms. They farmed on paper; and they forgot the land, the smell, the feel of it, and remembered only that they owned it, remembered only what they had gained and lost by it…. Then such a farmer became a store keeper, and kept a store… And the owners not only did not work the farms any more, many of them had never seen the farms they owned. ” This quote portrays the farm owners in California as evil.
They don’t work the land anymore, nor do they even oversee it; they have people running the farms for them and they just see the money involved. They loose touch with what farming is really about: being in touch with the earth. Now all they see are the profits and the losses. The Joads’ vision of a California where people can freely pick fruit symbolizes the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve freely picked fruit. The family yearns for this type of place because this connection to the earth has been stripped from them since the bank took their land and the tractor destroyed their house.
These symbols and archetypal images shown in the text demonstrate that The Grapes of Wrath is a romance novel. The family must travel across the United States to re-connect with the earth and live happily. This story is not the story of the Joads alone, for thousands of families made this journey during the Dust Bowl. They all suffered the same problems as the Joads, but to different degrees. Steinbeck helps illustrate the true intents of these migrant “Okies” in their Romantic quest to return to the Golden Age.