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Imagine awaking to the first rays of dawn, finding yourself lying on a tattered scrap of cardboard beneath a highway overpass. Your empty stomach churns with numbing hunger and you know today will be yet another listless scramble for survival. Homeless, jobless, and hungry, you glare with fervent jealousy at those clothed, groomed, and pompous passers-by grasping their purses and wallets tightly when they catch sight of you. Ashamed and enraged, you feel cheated and wonder how it is possible for such financial diversity to exist within the same city. You pitifully prop yourself against a wall on a busy street corner and await the morning rush hour that will supply your meager breakfast. The extreme poverty experienced by the unfortunate farmers who were forced into vagrancy during the Great Depression is not unlike the neediness that exists in American ghettos today. Such widespread destitution is a direct result of an inadequate economic system. Through tales of helpless families’ tribulation, Steinbeck and Kotlowitz disclose the defects of the capitalist system in The Grapes of Wrath and There Are No Children Here, meanwhile alluding to an alternative economic structure: socialism.
Throughout the novels, disadvantaged families become helpless victims of the lack of effective government aid in their area, an adverse effect of extreme capitalism. The Chicago Housing Authority actually hired “private security guards [who] searched out the squatters and physically removed them” (Kotlowitz 79). By kicking homeless people back out on the street, this government outfit coldly disregarded the basic human need of shelter in order to preserve their right to the decrepit property of the Henry Horner Homes. Such self-interested procedures are frequent and permitted through the capitalist ideas of personal property ownership. The “salesmen, neat, deadly, [with] small, intent eyes watching for weakness” depicted in an intercalary chapter are exemplary members of those who abuse the system . These malefactors, examples of limitless capitalism fueled by selfishness and greed, are able to prey on the vulnerable migrants because the mandating power set no restrictions against such unjust monopoly. Similarly, the violence that denigrates childhood in There Are No Children Here could be prevented if the government enforced laws against such brutality. Unfortunately, rash and illegal gang business is transacted with impunity in the Henry Horner Homes area daily because no one bothers to regulate illicit activity.
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The use of innocent people as victims of cold capitalism and unknowing promoters of the principles of socialism proves effective in both novels. Neither Steinbeck nor Kotlowitz directly oppose capitalism and advocate socialism in their tales, but rather discretely present the two ideals to influence the reader’s thoughts about each system. Both authors are aware that not all readers will agree with malign towards capitalism. Steinbeck even displays little Ruthie’s love of personal property: when she was instructed to share the “geranium gone wild” with her brother, she “felt how the fun was gone” because she wanted the flower for herself only .