Man's relationship to the land undergoes a transformation throughout John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Initially, back in Oklahoma, each family feels a strong attachment to the land because the ancestors of these farmers fought and cleared the Indians out of the land, made it suitable for farming, and worked year after year in the fields so that each generation would be provided for. Passing down the land to successive generations, the farmers come to realize that the land is all that they own. It is their family's source of sustenance. However, the strong bond between man and the land is broken when the bank comes to vacate the tenants during hard times.
The tractors hired by the bank literally tear down the bond between man and the land. Due to the eviction, the farmers are forced to move to California, where work is supposedly in demand. As each family takes off for California, it no longer feels a connection to the lands through which it is traveling. Once it reaches California, it feels no connection to its land. For the first time, it is forced to be dependent on somebody else's generosity in distributing jobs, and most importantly, somebody else's land. Thus, in California, the relationship between man and land is not as strong as it was in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The change in this relationship is due in part to the mercilessness of the bank, and in the end, man loses because its connection to the only significant thing it has ever owned is gone. Once the families travel to California, each family member's soul stays back in Oklahoma, making it difficult to adjust to working on lands that have not been cultivated by their own family for generations.
The land of each generation of farmers comes to be viewed as an additional family member due to its ancestry and due to each generation's dependency on it. Each generation feels a personal connection to the land because the land is how each generation makes its living, no matter how big the piece of land may be. In an inter-chapter, a tenant farmer explains to the tractor driver, who is evicting his family, the special bond between man and the land:
If a man owns a little property, that property is him, it's part of him, and it's like him. If he owns property only so he can walk on it and handle it and be sad when it isn't doing well, and feel fine when the rain falls on it, that property is him, and some way he's bigger because he owns it. Even if he isn't successful he's big with his property. That is so. (50)
Through the landowner, Steinbeck reveals that the welfare and happiness of each of the Oklahoman farmers were dependent on the output of the land and its physical condition. The farmers do not ask for much from the land. The land is their way of making the world seem small in comparison to their farms, because to them, their farms are the world. Due to this, the condition of the land dictates...