Quiz fill-in assignment: Steinbeck’s myth of the Okies

The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel by John Steinbeck. The novel takes place in late 1930s America or namely, The Great Depression. The books focuses on the Joads, a poor family of farmers who have no choice but to abandon their farm due to things like economy, poor agricultural conditions, and bank foreclosures. The Joads soon decided to move to California after hearing about the good wages and how work was extremely plentiful.

Even though The Grapes of Wrath, is a novel that described the conditions of the Great Depression, could this book actually be seen as a source of accurate history? A man named Keith Windschuttle says “the novel is either outright false or exaggerated beyond belief.”

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In Keith Windschuttle’s essay, Steinbeck’s Myth of the Okies, Windschuttle refutes most if-not all social, climatic, economic, and political conditions.

In the novel, Steinbeck writes that one of the biggest reasons for the great Okies migration was due to the great dust storms that would overtake the farms. Windschuttle claims that this detail is highly exaggerated and through information from the historian, James N. Gregory, discovers that roughly only six percent of farmers were actually affected by the dust storms at such a degree.

Windschuttle even refutes Steinbeck’s claim on the bank or “the monster”. Steinbeck writes that the banks were the plight of all farmers, forcing farmers from their lands and replacing them with tractors. Windschuttle writes that the banks weren’t the ones to blame for the farmer’s move, but the policies of the New Deal which limits the production of cotton, farm goods, and such.

Windschuttle also talks about how most migrants weren’t farmers, how the Okies were better informed about California, and even how most Okies were actually employed in California due to the economic boom of 1940. I have responded positively to all of Windschuttle’s claims on the history of the Okies due to his use of actual historians who studied the history of the late 1930s.

Steinbeck’s novel is by no means an accurate representation of the Great Depression and will not help anyone who would want to understand the history of California. From the book itself, I always thought that the immigration were due to the great dust bowls and the monstrous bank. But after reading Windschuttle’s essay, I found out that my understanding of American history is incredibly clouded.

With all these in mind, should a novelist be true to facts, to history? Unless it’s a biography, I believe that authors do not have to be true to facts or history. Sure The Grapes of Wrath sets in a real moment of America history but people have to understand that Steinbeck’s novel is still a fiction. People have to understand that this novel will not be the most accurate source of history and that Steinbeck didn’t have any real obligations to make his story accurate, he just wanted to write for the sake of writing. Personally, I really like that Steinbeck exaggerated some events of the Great Depression as it made the novel much more enjoyable whilst giving me some insight on the conditions of the depression, which I treated as a sort of luxury.

In the end of the day, The Grapes of Wrath is not a historically accurate novel but a fictional story of a family trying to survive the exaggerated events of the Great Depression.


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