The Grapes of Wrath

Why is Steinbeck devoting so much of this chapter to discussion of land ownership, squatting, and how one comes to “own” land?

Chapter 19

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This has to do with one of the major themes behind the book. Agribusiness had come to America. Sharecroppers were not needed to farm small plots of land anymore. Big companies could do it cheaper and on a huge scale. This was merely an extension, Steinbeck argues, of the history of American free enterprise agriculture. California once belonged to Mexico and its land to the Mexicans. But a horde of tattered feverish American poured in, with such great hunger for the land that they took it. Farming became an industry as the Americans took over. They imported Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Filipino workers who became essentially slaves. The owners of the farms ceased to be farmers and became businessmen. They hated the Okies who came because they could not profit from them. Other laborers hated the Okies because they pushed down wages. While the Californians had aspirations of social success and luxury, the barbarous Okies only wanted land and food. Hoovervilles arose at the edge of every town. The Okies were forced to secretly plant gardens in the evenings.