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“No other [serious] novel of the thirties had anything like its national impact,” historian Donald Worster asserted.“It taught an entire reading public what to think about the Okies and exodusters, and it would endure, for all its aesthetic and analytical faults, as one of the great American works of literature.” More than a million residents of the southwest would become migrants by the end of the decade, the “dirty Thirties”; and the epic that Steinbeck composed to recount the trek westward was virtually without precedent in its impact.Yet he was convinced that immigration had already corrupted and mongrelized the general populace, and the movie version of John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel enabled the .
Efforts at censorship were ineffective, however; and even the allegation that the novel was an affront to regional pride did not stop the public library of Tulsa from acquiring twenty-eight copies to satisfy the demand.4 A U. Congressman from Oklahoma, Lyle Boren, was apoplectic: “I cannot find it possible to let this dirty, lying, filthy manuscript go heralded before thepublic without a word of challenge or protest.” He “resent[ed], for the great state of Oklahoma, the implications in that book.” Exulting in his own “tenant-farmer heritage,” Boren contributed to the nation’s rich legacy of yahooism—preserved for posterity in the — by calling this novel “a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.”5 This critic’s son, David Lyle Boren, born two years later, would become a U. Senator and the president of the University of Oklahoma. It was especially alert to potential disruptions to social order that might come up from below, though such a threat was hardly original to the 1930’s or indigenous to Depression-era America.
After all, the first person to discern the socio-economic divide between “the haves and the have-nots” was Sancho Panza’s grandmother (chapter XX of showed up at a table at the May Day rally of the Communists’ Los Angeles chapter?
In 1941 Eudora Welty felt obliged to label Steinbeck a propagandist, even as she acknowledged that her life diverged from other young people’s experiences in that she had neither been jailed nor had trodden grapes.3 Influence was hardly synonymous with assent.
In communities like Kansas City, Missouri and East St.
But anyone assessing the politics of Steinbeck’s novel and of its Hollywood adaptation must reckon with theimpact that was allowed to play in Soviet cinemas because of its propaganda value, which was presumably to heighten awareness of the desperate misery of the Okies under the most advanced system of capitalism on the planet.
After several weeks, however, the film—given the unbiblical title of —had to be withdrawn.Edmund Wilson dismissed as “a propaganda novel, full of preachments and sociological interludes.” But in behalf of what ideology did Steinbeck mount the soapbox? The power of the novel, according to , lay in Steinbeck’s gift for showing the plight of the Joads as “an event in history, to be understood by history, to be transformed and remembered and taught in history.”8 But exactly what had history done to the Joads? He “was never able to put his finger firmly and accurately on the economic institutions responsible for the Joads’ exodus,” according to Worster, whose own parents had been evicted from western Kansas by the dust storms, and deposited in Needles, California.How should history instruct the rest of us about their suffering? Not that novelists should be expected to brandish policy proposals, or to foresee more keenly than anyone else the historical consequences of plowing up grass cover.Efforts at censorship in the public schools persisted, in one instance because the father of a tenth-grader noticed how often the novel “takes the Lord’s name in vain.” But blasphemy did not exhaust the list of objections.was banned “for its sexual frankness as well as for its political views,” Worster noted.Economic backwardness was apparent in the Soviet response to The totalitarian reactions to this movie are only the most striking instances of the political polysemousness that is the subject of this essay.Coming across as vaguely radical, Ford’s film—perhaps even more than the book that inspired it—nevertheless achieved an ambiguity that is more the signature of art than of politics, but effected a wide range of responses to the representation of the Okies’ plight.Le roman tout comme le film de John Ford (1940) furent compris par le grand public de l’époque, et bien des années plus tard, comme une protestation clairement gauchiste, voire radicale, contre une telle injustice.Mais cet essai montre combien les idées politiques de ces œuvres jumelées sont en réalité difficiles à saisir et combien il est hasardeux de définir, quel que soit l’effort rétrospectif, la critique que Steinbeck et Ford ont proposée dans leur version des Adolf Hitler knew almost nothing of the United States, a country he never visited.Even though the Soviet Union stretched across eleven time zones, Stalin in particular was haunted by fears of capitalist encirclement that proved to be justified.Ineptitude and inefficiency permeated the command economy he established—so much so that, had the Kremlin ever gained control of the Sahara, Western analysts liked to quip, there would soon have been a shortage of sand.