Essay on Man and Nature in The Grapes of Wrath

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Man and Nature in The Grapes of Wrath

In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck uses both obvious references and subtle contrasts to emphasize the main theme of the novel: the sanctity of man's relationship to the natural world and to each other.

Machines have no place in this relationship. They act as a barrier between men and the land. They are dangerous because they perform the function of men with greater efficiency, but they lack the spiritual element that makes the land so valuable. Chapter five uses imagery to detail the evil inherent in the plowing of land by a machine:

"Behind the tractor rolled the shining disks, cutting the earth with blades-not plowing but surgery, pushing the cut earth to
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The company is seeking what will drive profit; it does not care for the long-term effects on the land and will rob it of its nutrients. Furthermore, when the land is disconnected from the men who eat its produce, it dies a spiritual death. When no person is there to worship it, it ceases to be holy.

Not only does the land suffer from a break in the sacred connection between farmer and crops, the men lose a part of their humanity to the machine. Those "men" who run the tractors are described in the novel as being "part of the monster (Steinbeck, 48)." They have given their humanity to the company in return for money to buy food that was produced by machines, not by men. Chapter eleven describes the slow degrading of the spirits of the tractor men and the migrants who no longer know the land. The slow deterioration of the houses, with no people to care for and be sheltered by them, is symbolic of the death of the land and the people when they are not connected. (Steinbeck 158-159)

Just as a tractor is composed of thousands of iron parts, working smoothly and without knowledge or passion about the results of their labor, the company is made of men who work rigidly and disinterestedly at the tasks assigned to them. The machines sever the people from the