The Grapes of Wrath

Class Consciousness in The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath" has been the subject of much critical attention. Many of the novel's detractors have concentrated their critiques not upon its literary failings, but rather its politics (Zirakzadeh). At the time of the novel's publication and in the years since, such critics have condemned Steinbeck's expression of the failings of capitalism. The story of the Joad family is largely an indictment of the inequitable socio-economic system that is vital to a capitalist economy. According to Karl Marx, the independent farmer represented the last remaining obstacle to fulfilling the capitalist owner's dream of transforming the entire American labor class into a commodity (368). In detailing the plight of the farming class, Steinbeck foresaw the future of the American economic system in which the worker would become more disenfranchised and alienated and economic power would be placed into the hands of an increasingly shrinking minority. An overriding theme of the novel is that both responsibility and reward should be shared equitably; a view that is in direct contrast to the underlying owner/employee structure of capitalism. Steinbeck's commitment to the belief that the...

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