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They arrive in California usually having used up every resource to get here, even to the selling of the poor blankets and utensils and tools on the way to buy gasoline. They arrive bewildered and beaten and usually in a state of semi-starvation, with only one necessity to face immediately, and that is to find work at any wage in order that the family may eat.In one camp, not far from Steinbeck's hometown of Salinas, he found about 2,000 people crammed into a pathetic shelter, many suffering from typhoid, flu, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. There was little food to be had, and the drinking water was foul. Once, when a riot broke out, the police squashed it brutally. "You couldn't fight back if you didn't feel good," Steinbeck wrote. "That was the secret the bosses and police had, and they knew they'd win."
Now a new week starts and unpropitiously for me. Last night up to Ray's and drank a great deal of champagne. I pulled my punches pretty well but I am not in the dead sober state I could wish. However, I will try to go to work. Don't have to because I have a day caught up. All sorts of things might happen in the course of this book, but I must not be weak. This must be done. The failure of will even for one day has a devastating effect on the whole, far more important than just the loss of time and wordage. The whole physical basis of the novel is discipline of the writer, of his material, of the language. And sadly enough, if any of the discipline is gone, all of it suffers. And this slight fuzziness of mine may be a break in the discipline. I don't know yet. But right now I intend to find out.Despite the hangovers and self-doubts, the writing progressed with astonishing speed and fluency. Between May and October 1938, he produced a manuscript of 200,000 words, writing in longhand with Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky playing on the gramophone behind his desk. On September 3rd, he christened the book The Grapes of Wrath, a title suggested by his wife and plucked from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The narrative was completed on October 26th, when Steinbeck wrote in his journal: "Finished this day -- and I hope to God it's good."
NOTE TO THE TEACHER
The questions, exercises, and assignments on these pages are designed to guide students' reading of the literary work and to provide suggestions for exploring the implications of the story through discussions, research, and writing. Most of the items can be handled individually, but small group and whole class discussions will enhance comprehension. The Response Journal should provide students with a means, first, for recording their ideas, feelings, and concerns, and then for reflecting these thoughts in their writing assignments and class discussions. These sheets may be duplicated, but teachers should select and modify items according to the needs and abilities of their students.
Life during the Great Depression of the 1930's was extremely difficult for almost everyone. But for those who had little to begin with, it created often unbearable circumstances. By 1935, drought and poor farming practices, especially in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, and Texas, led to the wind erosion of topsoil. So severe was this problem that the affected areas of the Great Plains were labeled the Dust Bowl. At nearly the same time, the development of the all-purpose tractor enabled large landowners to dispense with the labor of farmers who were tenants on their land. By the late '30s, a majority of the approximately 1.8 million tenant farmers in the South had been evicted from their homes. Many of the displaced farmers sought work in the "promised land" of California. Eventually, there were as many as 300,000 migrants in California, several workers for every available job in the fertile farming valleys of that state.
In 1936, John Steinbeck conducted research on the people who had moved to California from Arkansas and Oklahoma; in 1937, he toured the Dust Bowl and traveled with migrants on their relentless drive to California. From those experiences he wrote The Grapes of Wrath, which upon publication in 1939 earned Steinbeck both high praise (including the Pulitzer Prize) and harsh criticism for its strong language and sociopolitical implications. The novel continues to be one of the most highly praised and vehemently criticized pieces of American literature.
PREPARING TO READ
UNDERSTANDING THE STORY
Chapters 1-11: The Land
Chapters 12-18: The Migration
Chapters 19-30: The Promised Land