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Fitzgerald's Accuracy in His Portrayal of the Twenties

  • Date Submitted: 03/16/2010 10:29 AM
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The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

Historical Background

The plot of Steinbeck’s masterpiece is rooted in the historical and social events of 1930s America, specifically the environmental disaster coined the Dust Bowl by an Oklahoma reporter in 1935. Drought had been a serious problem for the Great Plains region of the United States for many decades prior to the 1930s. In the late 1880s, the land began to be settled by sharecroppers for agricultural purposes, but a particularly severe drought in 1894 brought such widespread crop destruction that, in some areas, as many as 90 percent of the settlers abandoned their claims. During this drought period came several reports of dust clouds covering the land, suffocating livestock and impeding visibility. In the early twentieth century, greater rainfall and the replacement of bare fields with sod helped restore the agricultural productivity of the Plains states, and by World War I, large-scale farming had begun again. Soon after the war, however, the weather began to warm, and again, drought became a chronic condition of the area. Meanwhile, poor farming techniques of numerous sharecroppers had decimated the agricultural capacity of the land, the harsh cotton crops robbing soil of its nutrients. These two conditions combined to make it difficult for farmers to bring in a profitable crop.

With the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent decline in the U.S. economy, banks became desperate for a way to recoup losses. Maintaining that it was more lucrative to merge the sharecroppers’ holdings into one large farm to be cultivated by a corporation, land companies began removing families from their farms. Most sharecroppers had been so unsuccessful that the banks already owned their property. Uneducated and inexperienced in non-agrarian matters, the dispossessed families were ill equipped for other employment.

Naïve and adrift, the migrants were in the perfect position to be taken advantage of by the...


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