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Stereotypes in “The Grapes of Wrath” Essay Sample

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Stereotypes in “The Grapes of Wrath” Essay Sample

John Steinbeck explores many themes in “The Grapes of Wrath”; such as, the importance of avoiding stereotypes/labels and the need to share what we have with others. Steinbeck conveys these two themes through setting and characterization.

Steinbeck opens the novel by describing the dust bowl in Oklahoma and the “men and women huddled in their houses, and they tied their handkerchiefs over their noses when they went out, and wore goggles to protect their eyes.” (pg 3) Steinbeck made it clear that the families in Oklahoma were suffering; the dust bowl would soon force them to leave their homes and set out to the West. In chapter nineteen, the readers learn that California used to once belong to Mexico. However, the Americans believed they owned the land and took California away from the Mexicans. Now, the descendents of these Americans try to control the land and do not want the “Okies”, the migrants from Oklahoma, to occupy California. Therefore, the stereotypes and rude behavior against the tenants begin.

“…They’ll drink a five-cent soda and crab that it ain’t cold enough. The woman will use six paper napkins and drop them on the floor. The man will choke and try to put the blame on Mae. The woman will sniff as though she smelled rotting mean and they will go out again and tell forever afterward that the people in the West are sullen…She calls them shitheels.” (pg 156) This is the impression Mae, a waitress, has on the Okies. The label “Okies” itself means the migrants are not human; instead, they are poor and dirty. They are thieves and criminals. When a poor man enters Mae’s hamburger stand, she was very reluctant to sell him a loaf of bread. After Al growls at Mae, she obediently sells the man bread and charges two pieces of nickel candy for a penny. Mae’s change of heart can be debatable, but her cruel judgments were still evident.

“Well, you aint in your country now. You’re in California, an’ we don’t want you goddamn Okies settlin’ down.” (pg 214) Steinbeck continuously makes the police men and the landowners criticize the migrants. Because of these false labels, the social classes divide even more. The “Okies” were not wanted anywhere and they were forced to leave and search for jobs all throughout California. Steinbeck enforces the readers the importance of avoiding stereotypes so divisions and problems do not occur. However, these stereotypes did occur and the tenants and landowners were divided, so, the tenants had to stay together. The tenants needed to help each other out and share what they had with others. As the people sought out to the West, “the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream.” (pg 193)

This shows that people learned to act as one and that they were all in it together. This is something the Joad family always believed in. They valued togetherness and helping anyone in need. In chapter eighteen, the Joads help out the Wilsons by fixing their broken car and they join forces and travel together to California until the Wilsons cannot continue. The Joads leave the Wilsons some money even though they are poor. Another example would be in the last chapter when Rose of Sharon willingly suckled the old dying man. It revealed the Joad families’ kind heart and the need to help others, especially the poor.

Steinbeck conveys one of the major themes of the novel, the need to share what we have with others, through the Joad family’s actions. It can be taken one step further by uniting as one and working together. “This is the beginning-from “I” to “we”.” (pg 152) If they all share with the others, they are all unified and their transformation from “I” to “we” begins.

Steinbeck explored the idea of avoiding stereotypes and the need to help out others through setting and characterization. He showed that stereotypes divide people but it also leads to unification and eventually working together.

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