21, 388). Steinbecks tone throughout is one of the owners impending doom. But their violent and cruel methods keep them in control.
The labor perspective is posed against this. Tom angrily mentions a strike. He says, “Well, spose them people got together an says, Let em rot. Wouldnt be long fore the price went up, by God!” (ch. 20, 336). He is told that the owners find out who the labor movement leaders are and jail or kill them. By the end of the novel, there is not much redeeming. The workers are exploited. The closest they come to organizing in unions is in the migrant camps. This does not help them overcome the powerful owners. Strikes are broken up because there are just too many people who are desperate for anything. Yet the Joad family falls into luck with cotton picking. This is symbolized in chapter twenty-eight with their ability to purchase food and luxury items like razors. Tom seems to find hope for that unity of people. He tells his Ma, “All work together for our own thing — all farm our own lan.” (ch. 28, 571).
He bases this on the camp model, where the police were thrown out. He wonders if all the people got together, they might have success. There are hints of the labor movement coming together against the owners.
The novel is optimistic in some ways. But Toms hope is still just an idea, a distant dream. Steinbecks book addresses the labor issue in powerful terms. It reflects the labor movement issues of its day. The Grapes of Wrath points to a possible way that labor could succeed, while critiquing harshly the violent system of the repressive owners.
Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. London: Verso, 1996.
Kannenberg, Lisa. “Great Depression: 1930s.” In Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History, ed. Eric Arnesen, vol. 2: G-N, 542-547. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Levant, Howard. “The Fully Matured Art: The Grapes of Wrath.” In John Steinbecks the Grapes of Wrath, ed. Harold Bloom (Modern Critical Interpretations), 17-44. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
Pizer, Donald. “The Enduring Power.