In the twenty-fifth chapter of his novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck presents the reader with a series of vivid images, accompanied by a series of powerful indictments. Steinbeck effectively uses both the potent imagery and clear statements of what he perceives as fact to convey his message. This short chapter offers a succinct portrayal of one of the major themes of the larger work. Namely, the potential bounty of nature corrupted and left to rot by a profit-driven system, a system that ultimately fails.
Steinbeck begins the chapter with the simple statement, "The spring is beautiful in California" (p. 346). The proceeding explanation of California’s springtime beauty evokes images of Eden and Paradise. Steinbeck describes the full green hills, fragrant valleys of fruit blossoms, the swelling tendrils of grapes, and mile-long rows of lettuce, cauliflower, and artichoke. The fertility of the land is explicitly conveyed by the sentence, "The full green hills are round and soft as breasts" (p. 346). "Round and soft" breasts bring to mind both the voluptuous figure of a fertility goddess, and the comfort and safety of a mother’s embrace. The images that Steinbeck puts down here portray California as an abundant Eden. Capable of providing for all of her children, just as a mother would.
California’s bounty is graphically depicted when Steinbeck says, "The fruit grows heavy, and the limbs bend gradually under the fruit so that little crutches must be placed under them to support the weight" (p. 346). Imagine a hungry man reading those lines! Fruit so large and full that the branches bend and must be supported by crutches. It is as though Steinbeck has just describe...
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...he yield of the harvest. Yet there is a failure that Steinbeck perceives. He sees the hungry and starving people. How is it that despite the achievements of the best and brightest of humanity there still exist starving children? The answer that Steinbeck implies in the course of the chapter is that it is the system that is to blame. Any system of commerce that utilizes the best of human knowledge and pools the resources of humanity in its drive to make a profit, but is unable to prevent a child from starving to death, is a failure. It is a great and despicable failure in Steinbeck’s eyes. "There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize" (p. 349).
Ovid, Metamorphoses. ("The Ages of the World.") SRP 435 class handout.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin/ Viking Critical Library, 1997.
Tantalus. SRP 435 class handout.
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