The Powerful Style of The Grapes of Wrath
When Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, our country was just starting to recover from The Great Depression. The novel he wrote, though fiction, was not an uncommon tale in many lives. When this book was first published, the majority of those reading it understood where it was coming from-they had lived it. But now very few people understand the horrors of what went on in that time. The style in which Steinbeck chose to write The Grapes of Wrath helps get across the book's message.
Early in the 1930's Steinbeck wrote, "The trees and the muscled mountains are the world-but not the world apart from man-the world and man-the one inseparable unit man and his environment. Why they should ever have been understood as being separate I do not know." Steinbeck strove to reconnect them, and it shows in his writing. Intermixed with the plot are corollary chapters. The purpose of the corollary chapters is to put the events of the story in perspective to the circumstances of the country, so everyone would be able to understand the context of the book. The corollary chapters tell little pieces of the "common story", the story held in common. They don't give specifics-they give generalities. The first chapter gives the background to all of the following events. Every-other chapter gives more background to the story. Whether a massive draught causes this migration of people from the Midwest, or all the families get told to get off of the land, or all the migrants are starving; the chapters tell how all of this happened.
Not only does Steinbeck tell his story and put it in perspective, he also gives social commentary. One might expect this social commentary to be expressed either symbolically or directly. Steinbeck does both. Steinbeck stated, "The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement." He strove to fulfill this commission with a passion.
Steinbeck indicates his social concerns directly in his corollary chapters, where he explains how these events are history repeating itself. And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for...