The Impact of Poverty on Individual Identity in John Steinbeck’s: The Grapes of Wrath

Fatma Babacheikh Boudali


John Steinbeck’s novel: The Grapes of Wrath is a novel where a family “the Joad” is compelled to leave Oklahoma, a city touched by the Great Depression of the thirties and destroyed by a natural phenomenon known as the: Dust Bowl. Those fictional characters sought to fulfill their dreams by going to California, the supposedly rich earth that would provide them a secure and cozy shelter. Instead of that, those immigrants found themselves living in precarious conditions, dispossessed and unable to satisfy quintessential needs such as eating or even sleeping in suitable houses. I will show that during hard times, human beings connect together and the individual’s self-identity is transformed into group solidarity. The only way to succeed to overcome everyday life’s difficulties is the union of people who unite their efforts to obtain what they long for: “if we all get jobs an’ all work-maybe we can get one of them little white houses.” (The Grapes of Wrath: 93) Here we see Karl Marx’s influence on John Steinbeck’s novel; a single person cannot achieve his goal by himself, the endeavors must be united because for him unity makes strength.  What about the individual’s identity as an independent being? I will show that John Steinbeck draws a pessimistic image of people struggling with their bad conditions alone. In most cases, those lonely persons are doomed to die or stay forever in their extremely poor conditions. Hence, it is important and even compulsory to be part of a family or group in order to exist. In any group there must be leaders who would guide the tribe. When someone is destitute and alone, he lacks the means that could help him to overcome life’s difficulties and assert his singularity.


class struggle, identity, Great Depression, dust bowl, capitalism, migration.

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