The Grapes of Wrath
The movie “The Grapes of Wrath” I watched recently is the classic adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel written and published in 1939 only one year before the movie was released. When the movie production was approved the director John Ford and his crew were able to accomplish a major task and finish the project without getting involved in the conflict with labor unions what was very important since many members of the crew belonged to them.
The script which is based on Steinbeck’s book adopted a very specific dialect, the language spoken by the villagers living in rural Oklahoma so the authenticity impression was preserved. The movie presents the times of the Great Depression in the American Mid West and West coasts. This was a tough era of American history that got the historically accurate documentation and John Ford’s movie shows us perfectly the experience of many people those days – farmers and their families, drifters and strikers.
For many Americans who watched the movie in the theaters in the big cities it was not easy to find out how hard and stressful it was for the people living in the country to be forced out of the lands they were working on. Here the director introduces us to the family of poor farmers from Oklahoma Dust Bowl and their struggling during the tough times of the economic crisis. While watching the movie I observed the contrast between the representatives of the lower class and the wealthy landowners who take an advantage of the unfortunate circumstances.
From the events presented I’ve learned that the economic crisis and the advancing technology which was used to farm the land were responsible for drastic and extreme changes which were imposed on thousands of people against their own will. All the farmers’ families which for many generations made the living out of their farms in the short period of time received the notifications demanding to move out and abandon the properties which they were residing at.
Obviously it was not their choice and the decision was made on their behalf without giving them the alternative opportunities. The main characters in the movie are the members of Joad’s family who are not only dealing with the problems inside of their family but also with the basis of their existence which is endangered. Those poor people understand very well that when fighting all the odds the only solution is to stay together and rely on each other and when facing the unpleasant reality they decide to remain as a family while entering the new chapter of their lives.
In order to find a solution to their problems Joad’s family decides to embark on the journey to California. They have high hopes and strong beliefs that if they will get there, their situation will change for better, they will be able to find jobs and as a result will settle in their new home. On the way to their destination they experience many unexpected events which they have to deal with as they appear. They loose two members of their family and while staying at the camps for the similar migrants they learn about the sad reality which was awaiting them.
It appeared that all the information they have been provided before they left Oklahoma were not exactly true and the land owners were trying to earn profits by using the unfair labor practices. Being fully aware of the desperate conditions the owners of the large farms offer low wages jobs and exploit all those hired to work on their lands. The new comers were not welcomed and treated with very suspicious manners. The local residents who were afraid of losing their own source of income were acting very unfriendly and openly demonstrated their opposition.
People like Joad’s family while forced to stay in the camps and awaiting the potential employment were treated by local authorities like trouble makers. All those who tried to stand up for their rights were considered difficult and wrongly accused of trouble causing. Rich and wealthy class representatives were simply misusing the power of the local authorities in order to protect their own interest and increase the potential profits. Whoever was brave enough to disagree with those kinds of methods was considered as a threat and forced to leave or had to face the mistreatment and abuse.
While majority of migrating families were subjected to the hardship and constant struggling, the smaller number of this group were lucky enough to find the temporary accommodations provided by the Federal authorities as a form of social assistance during the economic depression. Once they were able to reach such facilities they were offered decent and reasonable housing with the basic sanitary installations. The life in those places was organized by the rules which campers could set up so all the residents were treated with respect and there was no tolerance for any form of abuse.
However some of the local land owners did not like the situation and were trying to sabotage the camp. Quite often those government managed facilities were subjected to the organized attempts of purposely initiated disturbances which will give the arguments to the local authorities to act while “preserving law and order”. It should be noticed that even tough it was not the director’s intention the conditions showed and the form of management in those camps succeeded in building up the reputation of the Government and helped in recognizing efforts directed towards continuous improvement during the crisis.
The democratic methods which were giving all the residents the right to protect their status were successfully maintaining the stabilized life while staying within the borders of the camp. Even the police authorities were not allowed to enter without the warrant. Many residents quickly realized how fragile and valuable it is for them to continue preventing the established order in the camp so they could organize the system of the comities which were overseeing all the key aspects of every day living conditions.
Under those circumstances surviving the difficult times until the employment opportunities appear was much more acceptable and helped to build the confidence in the better future. The movie definitely proves that people while facing major difficulties have much higher chances of prevailing if they help each other and stay together instead of resisting and fighting those problems just on their own. Even the strongest and most determined attempts to resist and fighting the reality by one single person will not last long and at the end will not be considered successful.
The Joad’s family proved to themselves that together they can manage to survive and use the difficulties which they went through as the learning experience. By using the combination of wisdom and wise assumptions together with good will and honest intentions they were able to help each other in the process of the decisions making. As we all now go through the inconveniences and carry the burden of struggling economy, while watching the movie we can relate in some certain way to the presented story.
We are fully aware that unfortunately seventy years later there are many Americans who do have to find answers to resolve their problems and react to the drastic changes which the economy imposed on them. As Casy, the former preacher perfectly summarizes his view when performing the funeral rites by saying: “I wouldn’t pray just for an old man that’s dead, ‘cause he’s all right. If I was to pray, I’d pray for folks that’s alive and don’t know which way to turn”.
The fact that the American Academy of Motion Pictures nominated John Ford’s movie was one of the reasons why even the President of the USA Franklin D. Roosevelt was present there and gave the speech which consisted of comments regarding the movie unique character. For someone like me whose knowledge of the United States modern history is not so deep I found the movie as being very educating and presenting Americans’ lives during the Great Depression from a different perspective.
Comparing to the recent production, the “Cinderella Man” I found quite few similarities and issues which were particularly important however the director John Ford is not trying to create a fairy tale but instead is exposing the dark side in which both the rules of economy and human nature compete with each other in the most important fight as the only possible way of surviving without loosing the human values such a dignity and pride.
We can say that the main characters, their interactions and behavior even if originated from the natural instincts of human beings slowly but steady helped them to built up the resistance and eventually made them stronger than they were ever before. Just like Russell Crowe in the “Cinderella Man” was given a second chance and did not waste it but succeeded in his journey to the victory on the boxing ring, Joad’s family under the spiritual leadership of Tom’s mother proudly emerged out of all difficulties and remained faithful about awaiting them much better future.
In my opinion the history of this country taught us a very valuable lesson which proved that even the Great Depression was not able to destroy the strong American spirit and discourage people from using their skills and joined efforts to help each other in the times of need. People need to believe that the tough times will end and they will be able to enjoy living again. Nothing motivates people in need to take an action and engage in many long term efforts better than having hope and faith that the better future is in their hands, that nothing else can help them better than their own determination.