The Grapes of Wrath, chronicles the Joad’s family exodus from Oklahoma to
California in search for a brighter, economic future. The name Joad and the exodus to
California is parallel to the Biblical story of Exodus and the character Job, but at the time
was depicting the Okie Exodus. The Okies were farmers whose topsoil blew away due to
dust storms and were forced to migrate along Route 66 to California in search of work.
The Okies were resented for migrating in large numbers to areas in the West where work
was already hard to find and the sudden multitude of workers caused wages to be
lowered. The Joad’s reside in Oklahoma, referred to as the “Dust Bowl” of the U.S.
because of its lack of rain. The story takes place during the late 1930’s when the country
was in the midst of the Great Depression. The Joad family were sharecroppers evicted
from their homes because they failed to pay the bank their loan payments to the Shawnee
Land and Cattle Company.
On their journey, the Joad’s ran into a returning migrant from California who tells
them that the handbill they have looking for 800 pickers is a bunch of hogwash. He’d
rather starve in Oklahoma then starve in California. The migrant scolds them on their
naivety saying “Now, how many of you all got them handbills?…(The men respond that
they all have them) There you are, same yellow handbill. 800 Pickers Wanted. All right,
the man wants 800 men, so he prints 5,000 handbills and maybe 20,000 people see ’em.
And maybe two or three thousand people start West on account of that handbill. Two or
three thousand people that are crazy with worry headin’ out for 800 jobs. Now does that
make sense?” He tells them that the growers are exploiting them, causing a surplus of
workers to drive down labor costs according to supply and demand. The significance of
his role in the movie, is that he let’s the Joad’s know everything they are moving West
for is false. Their journey is based on a lie, and the grass isn’t greener on the other side.
While stopping for gas, Mr. Joad heads into the diner to buy a loaf of bread. Mr.
Joad is a nickel short of the 15 cents that the bread cost, and against the waitresses
opinion the chef tells her to sell it to him for a dime. Not wanting charity, Mr. Joad tells
them to cut a nickel worth of bread off, but the chef refuses and makes him take it. The
Joad children stare in wonder at some of the candy in the diner, and the waitress out of
the goodness of your heart sold it to Mr. Joad for a penny rather then the dime it was
worth. Upon seeing the waitresses’ good will, two truckers eating at the diner leave the
waitress a generous tip. A little further up the road, the family is stopped at a checkpoint
by two policeman wanting to search their truck for any fruits or vegetables to prevent the
spread of rodents into the West. Though revealed later the grandmother was actually
dead at this point, Mrs. Joad tells the cops that her mother is ailing and must see a doctor.
The police immediately let them through and tell them where they can find a doctor.
Mrs. Joad knew that if the police saw the grandmother was dead that they would make
them turn around and head back to Oklahoma. These good deeds were symbolic of the
common good in people during the hard times of the depression. People helped those in
need, because they were most likely experiencing the same hard times. It also proved
how good thing would happen to those who did good.
A little after grandmother died, the Joad’s stop at the next transient camp,
Hooverville.” Symbolically named after United State President Herbert Hoover of the
early 30’s, Hooverville was a chaotic migrant camp consisted of little grey tents and
shacks scattered randomly. Most residents dined on fried dough, and were solicited to
work for dirt cheap wagers by nearby growers. Most migrants would take the job,
despite it being illegally solicited for low wages because of the obstacles faced trying to
attain work. The first obstacle most faced was the misleading information on fliers.
Fliers were use to trick people searching for work to driving their wages down. A second
obstacle, was illegal contractors soliciting work with false wagers. The migrants would
go and then with no other choice but starvation, agree to work for less then they were
told. Perhaps, the most violent obstacle were angry mobs met along the way at road
blocks threatening the migrants to turn around or else.
The Joad’s kept on moving along -refusing to give up on the American dream-
and came across an orchard that was hiring. Despite protesters outside, they go in and
register their names with the supervisor. The supervisor wanted to know how many men,
women, and children were part of the family. This is used to keep track of who is on the
orchard and preventing anyone from leaving and coming back as a new family because
new families get 5 cents on their first day; as noticed when the Joad’s tried to leave
without Tom. The workers at the orchard are treated inhumanely. They are not allowed
to leave, and are surrounded by a huge gate around the orchard that is guarded at all
times. They were lied to about wages, 5 cents was only the first day, every following day
was half that.
During the Great Depresssion and World War II, women entered the labor force
in place of men who were off to war, and were the backbone of this country. The ending
of this film commensurates with the historical facts of that era in that Mrs. Joad was the
anchor of the family. She kept the family from sinking,; she was the backbone. She said
she wasn’t scared of what the future held, and was prepared to face it head on.