Steinbeck's relationship to the transcendentalists [Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman] was pointed out soon after The Grapes of Wrath appeared by Frederick I. Carpenter, and as the thirties fade into history, Jim Casy with his idea of the holiness of all men and the unreality of sin seems less a product of his own narrowly doctrinaire age than a latter-day wanderer from the green village of Concord to the dry plains of the West.
Although Steinbeck argues for collective action to achieve specific goals, only the most unperceptive critics continue to argue that he is a collectivist in either philosophy or politics. Throughout his work he decries the mindless indoctrination of the totalitarians and maintains that only through reflection upon his bitter experience can learn the value of acting in concert with others for the relief of emergency conditions -- like the flood at the end of The Grapes of Wrath -- so that the individual may subsequently be free to realize his own potentialities. Nothing better illustrates Steinbeck's concept of social organization than the pictures in Chapter Seventeen of The Grapes of Wrath of the world that is created each night a people come together, and disappears the next morning when they separate.
In reference to the government camps in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck never suggests that these camps should offer more than temporary relief during emergencies; he never suggests that the government should provide work for the people. We must recall, too, the camp manager's comment that the people in the camp had taken his job away from him by assuming responsibilities for self-government. Steinbeck's approval ...
... middle of paper ...
... the question: How can any form of government avoid playing a continual role in the shaping of people's lives, whether directly or indirectly?
Simply to prove that Steinbeck was not a socialist, a rather easy task these days thanks to the work of Steinbeck scholars in the 60s and 70s, does not mean that he was a conservative bastion of American individualism and an opponent of "big government." Such a portrait of Steinbeck is as inaccurate as the socialist portrait French and Lisca exposed.
French, Warren. A Companion to The Grapes of Wrath. New York: The Viking Press, 1963.
Hawgood, John A. America's Western Frontiers. New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1967.
Jones, Evan. The Plains States. New York: Time Life Books, 1968.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: The Sun Dial Press, 1939.
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