Grapes of Wrath Essay: Steinbeck's Communist Manifesto
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The Grapes of Wrath as a Communist Manifesto
Steinbeck's political views are quite evident within The Grapes of Wrath. The subject of much controversy, The Grapes of Wrath serves as a social protest and commentary. Steinbeck's views as expressed through the novel tie directly into the Marxist ideals on communism.
Perhaps the first thing Steinbeck does in The Grapes of Wrath is establish the status quo. He sets up the farmers and the banks as the two main opposing forces. "Lord and serf... in a word, oppressor and oppressed" (Marx, 1) Immediately Steinbeck sets up the very same situation Marx establishes in The Communist Manifesto complete with proletarian (farmers) and bourgeois (bankers) classes.
The Joads and the other farmers clearly represent Marx's proletariat. The entire struggle they face is that of finding work or dying on the most basic of levels. Still, they fall victim to the conditions of the Great Depression, resulting in their continued inability to procure such a job. The migrants appear strongly as " the proletariat, the modern working class... who live only so long as they find work .. who must sell themselves piecemeal ... and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition to all the fluctuations of the market" (Marx, 4). Steinbeck and Marx find an obvious agreement over the situation and classification of the Okies, the proletarian workers.
One must also consider the role of the capitalist bankers and upper-class owners in the novel. The banks serve several purposes. First in the novel, they force the rural farmers off of their lands. Being the natural proletariat, they must take to the road in order to find a job. The upper class, as well, distribut...
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...hing for a reform of the current system. Bear in mind however, that there is no way to reform a system and let it be run by a "monster." Steinbeck's complaints about capitalism stem from its very basis and allow for no reform short of revolution. The old ways have died, violence is building, and as Marx would agree, revolution is imminent. The bourgeoisie and proletariat exist exactly as Marx states, and all the conditions are shaping up for a proletarian uprising. The revolution draws nigh as Steinbeck's characters learn the principles and values on which Marx bases communism. The Marxist revolution in The Grapes of Wrath is at hand, especially as working men unite.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.