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The Grapes of Wrath" novel written by John Steinbeck portrays the Joad family as it tries to cope with all the difficulties that migrant laborers had suffered during the Great Depression. Across the novel, readers are presented with the 1930 farmers that, in search of the American dream, find themselves trapped into a world in which the wealthy are willing to exploit the working-classes to the maximum, regardless of the fact that farmers are malnourished.
In the beginning of the book, Steinbeck presents the situation by describing the farm crops in Oklahoma having been devastated by a recent dust storm. At first Steinbeck refrains from presenting any characters as he intends to let the readers in on the topic.
Tom Joad, a young man who has just been released from prison, tells the story of how he had been imprisoned to a truck driver. During the story, Steinbeck takes advantage of several unimportant details to indirectly refer to the efforts done by the working classes to survive during the Great Depression. At the same time that Tom's arrives home a couple of bank representatives arrive with the intention of evicting several farmers.
As he finds his home, Tom, and Casy (a former preacher and friend of Tom's), are informed by an old man that Tom's family had been evicted and that they were now staying at their uncle John's. As night comes, the three have to hide in order for the police not to discover that they were illegally staying on the bank's property. Tom finds his family living with at Uncle John's house as they have undergone several changes while Tom had been imprisoned. Apparently, the family had been planning to leave Oklahoma in favor of California where life had been presumed of being better due to the flyers that they found claiming that there had been jobs there. Steinbeck again portrays how the depression had affected people as the farmers had been selling mainly anything that was worth money.
The family embarks on a trip to California and Casy joins them, as he too is desperate to find work. At the beginning of the trip the Joads had already begun to lose members of the family with the both the family dog and Grampa Joad perishing. After Grampa's death, the Joads are accompanied by the Wilsons that also travel to California, and, have a car. Not long after going to road again the Wilson's car breaks down and it takes some time before Tom and his younger brother get the car repaired.
As they finally reach California the two families discover that the propaganda in the flyers had been filled with lies and that there had been no work there and furthermore the policemen were harassing everyone. The Wilsons decide to stay in a camp from California because a member of their family gets sick. The Joads travel on and it does not take long and another unhappy incident happens to the family: the death of Granma. The conditions in California are presented as being horrible, with the people of the state being on the verge of a revolt.
After some time on the road the Joads stop at a camp in order to search for work. During their stay in the camp they find out of the existence of a government camp named Weedpatch where the authorities are kind to the residents and all of the basic needs are assured. After an incident with the police, Casy is being taken to jail after having punched a policeman. Shortly after, the Joad starts to break apart.
Tom manages to take the remaining members of his family and go to the government camp. The Joads are amazed when they find that the camp had been exactly as they heard it would be. Tom gets a job shortly and things seem to brighten up for the Joad family. However, during a month's time the Joads discover that neither of them had found a stable job and they need to travel further.
In the next camp that they encounter they find even better working conditions and higher wages. Tom hears that the local labor force is planning on making a strike and that their leader is Casy. It is later revealed that the time that Casy spent in prison had made him realize that he must fight for the working classes. During the strike Casy is murdered, and, Tom in his turn kills Casy's murderer and escapes the police. Tom later leaves his family so that they wouldn't get in trouble because of him. The book ends with Tom's sister giving birth during a major flood, and, later, breastfeeding a starving man.
Arthur Miller's "The Death of a Salesman" is perhaps one of the most representative books to present an American in search of the American Dream. The main character of the book, Willy Loman, is a traveling salesman that is certain that success is based on one's image in society.
Willy and his wife, Linda, had been working hard in order to make enough money to pay for the house's mortgage. After they succeed in paying the whole mortgage, the two realize that their plans to get rich and buy land into the countryside are nothing but dreams that would never become true. As Willy is constantly on the road staying in motels and such, he understands the importance that his house has and that it is one of the most important achievements in his life.
Across the book, Willy encourages his two sons to follow their father if they want to succeed in life. In reality, Willy had nothing it his life worth mentioning, and, furthermore, he did not want to accept that. Even from an earlier age, Willy's brother, who had been a successful businessman, had tried to convince Willy that dreams are nothing when compared to actual possessions. Willy did not want to listen and continued to meet as many people as he could and managed to be favored by everybody. However, in his later years he realized that his life had been a complete failure, and that he had become too old to accomplish his dreams.
Willy is certain that he is living the American dream and that in time he would become a very wealthy man. As his boys grow up to be failures, Willy realizes that all his dreams are beginning to crumble. Willy's story is meant to express the fact that one will never live the American dream if he only makes plans instead of becoming realistic.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Viking Press, 1949.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. The Viking, 1939.
The Searchers. Dir. John Ford. Warner Bros. 1956.
Warshauer, Matthew. "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream." Online resources for American studies. 13 Dec. 2008. http://www.americansc.org.uk/online/American_Dream.htm[continue]
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