The Grapes of Wrath

Society, Poverty, and History in The Good Earth and The Grapes of Wrath 12th Grade

While The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck vary greatly in basic subject matter, their thematic content and general intent are strikingly similar. Both award-winning literary works in their own right, together they provide a unique insight into the United States in the 1930s, when the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties had worn off into the decade(s) of economic downturn and national suffering termed the Great Depression. The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, when the horrible reality of the situation began to hit many Americans, does so in a direct way, giving the reader a firsthand look into the lives of the Joads, a family of Dust Bowl migrants from Oklahoma. Chapters detailing the family’s not inconsiderable trials and difficulties alternate with more symbolic ones, “offer[ing] thematic…counterpoints to the Joads’ story” (Henry). The Good Earth, on the other hand, follows the life of Wang Lung, a poor farmer in early 1900s China, as he builds a family and becomes a wealthy landowner. It too was written during the Depression, by an American author and humanitarian who sought to provide the comfort “of a rags-to-riches tale” in unstable and uncertain times (Thompson). Its focus on...

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