Abstract

In The Grapes of Wrath (1939), John Steinbeck portrays “the Okies” as refugees in their own country—tenant farmers forced off the land by big agriculture—who flee to California hoping to find work and a new home. Thrown together by shared circumstances, these dispossessed people bond during the journey, creating a community of people who might otherwise not have interacted. As a timeless national epic, The Grapes of Wrath calls attention to the exploitation and disenfranchisement of agricultural workers, migrants, and refugees past and present. Recognizing that the national focus of power and privilege was concentrated in urban areas, Steinbeck mobilized readers' imaginations to think beyond urban manufacturing or trade toward the world of agriculture. Steinbeck's choice of the term “refugees” in portraying the people affected most deeply by the Depression is deliberate and significant. Examining the plight of the Dust Bowl refugees in light of The Grapes of Wrath provides a tool for eliciting greater empathy for the plight of today's migrants and refugees as they seek to gain membership in the local community—to find a home and a homeland.

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