The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Chapter 19
Summary

California once belonged to Mexico and its land to the Mexicans. But a horde of tattered, feverish Americans poured in and took over the land. As the Americans gained control, farming became a systematic industry. The Americans imported Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Filipino workers, who essentially served as slaves. The owners of the farms ceased to be farmers and became businessmen; they hated the Okies because they could not profit from this set of arrivals. Other laborers hated the Okies because they pushed down wages. While the native Californians had aspirations to social success and luxury, the barbarous Okies only wanted land and food. Hoovervilles arose at the edges of towns all over the state. And dislike of the Okies took other forms: deputies overreacted to the Okies, spurred by stories that an eleven year-old Okie had shot a deputy. With all this history of tension, the great owners realize that when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away and that when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need.

Analysis

Steinbeck traces what he sees as the sorry history of California, fraught with indignity and oppression. Americans took the land from the Mexicans, placed Asian workers into virtual slavery, and finally condemned the Okies to build shantytowns. Yet Steinbeck predicts that the conclusion of this history will be the overthrow of the capitalist owner class. To some extent, he relies on Marxist-Leninist predictions that capitalist imperialism creates its demise through its own success. Eventually, the accumulation of wealth in too few hands will deprive the population to such a degree that the people will have no choice but to revolt.

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