The Grapes of Wrath - Fear, Hostility, and Exploitation in Chapter 21

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Fear, Hostility, and Exploitation in Chapter 21 of The Grapes of Wrath



Steinbeck's intercalary chapters in The Grapes of Wrath have nothing to do with the Joads or other characters of the novel, but help describe the story in different terms. They are similar to poems, offering different viewpoints of the migration, and clarifying parts of the story that the reader might not understand. An excellent example of this use can be seen in chapter 21, where an examination of the attitudes of migrant Okies and the residents of California reveals the changing nature of land ownership among the changing population of California and gives greater meaning to the fierce hostility that the Joads meet in California.



The first section of
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They suffer the anguish of losing their farms and their homes, of being forced to move endlessly and painfully in search of work on someone else's land. The anguish caused by sudden change in land ownership is a major aspect of the novel.



The next section of chapter 21 offers an explanation of the hostility that the migrants meet upon arrival in California. Steinbeck describes:



"Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights."



The mild people of California find in the Okies what they have yet to experience - fear and desperation. Sensing the extent to which the migrants are willing to work, the locals begin to fear for their own jobs, and most importantly, for their own property. In fearful defense, they attack the Okies as marauders who mean to destroy both populations through their desperation. This fear transforms into hostility, which reveals itself in the story through the deputies and managers who abuse and assault the Joads, as well as other migrant families in the workers' camps. Steinbeck goes on to…

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