Poverty in the Grapes of Wrath
The Grapes of Wrath is so completely, so guturally human that it's practically impossible not to become engrossed in the life stories of the main characters. Some have complained that the characters are flat, that there is little growth. I find this only partially true. There is much to read between the lines. One who reads closely can find much growth in the characters of Ma Joad, Rose of Sharon, Tom, and even Al. Then there is the former preacher, Casy, whose growth occurred before the Joads' story even began -- but Steinbeck offers glimpses of that growth in his stories to the Joads.
This careful examination of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the effects of corporatism and the ensuing expansion of poverty is insightful and heart-rending. Migrant farmers find themselves picking fruit and vegetables to sell for mere pennies a day, meanwhile they are unable to even feed their own families. They watch as corporate farms burn and destroy fruit and vegetables to keep the prices high and prevent the starving from stealing the "extra." They see acre upon acre of land go unused, but they cannot even plant a few carrots because it is owned by the banks and the migrants are charged with trespassing. The "Okies," as they are called, are treated worse than animals. Families break apart and the old, sick, or very young die of malnutrition and sickness. Meanwhile, the corporate farms and banks continue to put small farms out of business and scheme to keep prices high and wages low. The stark contrast can be seen in a corporate farm owner, decked out in gold chains, wryly offering work to the desperate Joads in the midst of a strike.
I have heard it said that it is only in recent years that people are crying "class warfare." The Grapes of Wrath is a poignant example of class warfare before the term was even coined. This book is a time capsule of times passed -- and history will repeat itself if we don't learn from the lesson Steinbeck has to teach.