Consistently in the world of literature there emerge writers who publish works to deeply affect readers, people of power, and even the government by bringing controversial subjects, perhaps previously ignored or unknown, to the spotlight. John Steinbeck, winner of the Nobel Prize, is one of these writers. The Grapes of Wrath is a work which compromises nothing to function as John Steinbeck's social statement and plea; a novel in which he protests against the treatment of the migrants by land-owners and the natives of California, and strikes a sympathetic and angered chord deep within his readers so as to make a difference in society and in the government. He is specifically concerned with the way the migrants are treated by the farm-owners in California, and to communicate these concerns he uses two things, a family and their story to strike a personal chord, and intercalary chapters, to further develop his social and moral concerns.
The Grapes of Wrath is based around a fictional sharecropper family called the Joads, though their story is nearly identical to many of the true migrants of the great depression. The Joad's struggle to maintain some sort of dignity and pride is broken by the tragedies they must witness and experience: the murder of their former preacher and good friend Casy, the constant harassment by the deputies, ugly nicknames, depressing camps, and a tired lack of jobs. Through this story Steinbeck refuses to let the plight of the migrants remain impersonal and distant. He gives the American people a way to understand exactly what was going on by turning the situation into a well-written story. Through his moving narrative the American people become intimately acquainted with one family, and thus become intimately acquainted with the entire situation. As Tom runs through underbrush and grass, his face bleeding and his mind racing as he escapes the persecutors whom he saw kill Casy, the reader longs to reach a hand in and help him. As the Joads are forced to keep moving by a lack of work, the reader longs to change the system. By drawing the reader into the Joad family, Steinbeck can then display the injustice the family suffers, and thus make it real, communicating his social and moral views about the treatment of the migrants, and causing his readers to want to do something about it.
The intercalary chapters are also important to the communication of Steinbeck's concerns. He uses them to include the material that the narrative alone could not cover. These chapters speak of the general picture of society and living conditions during the Great Depression, within which the Joad family struggled to survive. They support and comment on the Joad narrative, and also give historical information. Very often Steinbeck uses artistic, deeply moving passages in these chapters: "There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation," he writes of the California native practice of killing their hogs and destroying their crops because the migrants did not have enough money to buy them. "And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow." Steinbeck further supports his thoughts with these chapters; he uses startling images of screaming pigs and dying children to help maintain that the migrants were not getting any chances to work for their living, maintain their dignity, eat enough to survive, or feel hope for the future. He is sending an direct plea straight to Washington D.C. for federal aid and attention for the migrants, and an indirect plea to the public to support and sympathize with the plighted people, and to support a more tolerant and compassionate approach in the handling of these people.
John Steinbeck is incredibly successful in getting his message across to the reader. The Grapes of Wrath aroused national attention as soon as it was published. Steinbeck had both protesters and defenders; citizens of Oklahoma believed it gave an unfair portrayal of Oklahoma, and citizens of California were shocked and embarrassed by the book. Americans were ashamed of the desperate struggle of the migrants and were ashamed of the way that American citizens were treating one another. The government immediately paid attention to the situation, and even legislature was passed for federal relief aid for the people. If Steinbeck could write a novel that changed the government, even in this small way, than there is no argument that his novel was a complete success.
It is a difficult task for a private citizen to bring attention to matters which deeply concern him. Because Steinbeck experienced the plight firsthand, by living with a migrant family in the Hoovervilles and attempting to experience all that they experienced, he has an emotional connection to his subject. The Grapes of Wrath is his masterpiece because he did exactly that, bring national attention to the plight of the migrants. At the same time he moved and deeply affected his readers. Any reader who could not read the book without any feelings of indignation or sorrow is another reader which has proven John Steinbeck's complete success.