How has the figure of the traditional American hero changed in The Grapes of Wrath?
The Grapes of Wrath was written John Steinbeck, it was published in 1939. Steinbeck was interested in social and economic issues, the Grapes of Wrath is set during The Great Depression in America and follows one migrant farming families struggle. The southern states where farming was high such as Oklahoma, Arkansa, Texas and Nebraska were badly affected. Farmering families were unable to make any profit because of atrocious farming conditions. Harsh drought led to crop growth failure, then heavy winds blew away the topsoil on the land, resulting in vast amounts of Dust all over the land. Oklahoma became known as the “Dust bowl”. John Steinbeck sums up what many migrant families were forced to do in The Grapes of Wrath, “the dispossessed were drawn west from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand.” 1 From 1930 to 1935, almost 750,000 farms were lost through bankruptcy or sheriff sales. 2
In the novel we see a change in the hero. There is a move away from the traditional American hero who was the independant, cowboy image, the cowboy represented a Capitalist American society. While the representation of the hero in The Grapes of Wrath was an ordinary person that works hard. The glamour of the Cowboy hero is gone by the 1930s. People are not being encouraged to think for themselves anymore instead they are encouraged to work hard together. This is seen in the Grapes of Wrath.
The Grapes of Wrath follows the journey of the Joads, a family forced to leave their homeland in Oklahoma, they journey to California in search of work and a better life. California was thought to be prosperous and many went here during The Great Depression in search of agricultural work and in search of preferable living conditions. Along the way the Joads are faced with both harsh living and working conditions. All the while hoping to reach California. But along the way they hear rumours of a depleting job market. The farm country of California had quickly grown overcrowded with the abundant number of migrant workers. Jobs and food were scarce, and the migrants faced prejudice and hostility. The migrant camps became known as Hoovervilles...