Grapes of Wrath

An online exhibit by English 690 (Spring 2017) at San Francisco State University

Browse Exhibits (19 total)

Automobiles in The Grapes of Wrath

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Automobiles play an important role in The Grapes of Wrath. They were just as important to the many people who embarked on the arduous journey to California. Having a car was a necessity when it came to transporting a family, along with all of their earthly possessions, across the country. A car is a valuable tool, but it could just as easily turn a family's luck and become a burden. Breakdowns are practically inevitable; parts can be costly. Paying for gas money is literally unavoidable. Squeezing the Joads into a car does not make for a comfortable journey either.

The type of car a family drove was significant. A faulty used car could break down constantly, or the engine could blow up and leave the family stranded. Having some technical automobile knowledge was invaluable. A family could repair their own cars. Moreover, a person who knows about cars is able to choose the right vehicle to purchase, while knowing if it was in good condition. A car can also reveal a family's socioeconomic status to the world. Cars are a normal part of our lives today, but they were invaluable, and sometimes burdensome, to the people who migrated to California. This exhibit frames the significance of automobiles within the context of The Grapes of Wrath.

Death: In The Grapes of Wrath and funeral practices in Oklahoma


This exhibit explores the topic of Death in John Steinbeckk 's novel, The Grapes of Wrath, by addressing the funeral and burinal pratices of Oklahoma natives (Okies) during the early Twentieth century. 

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False Perceptions of California in the 1930's

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This exhibit examines the differences between perception and reality in migrating to California in the 1930's. After the Dust Bowl travesty in Oklahoma, many families were forced to migrate, mostly to California, in order to find farming jobs and opportunities. California was percieived to be some sort of "glory hole" where jobs and farm land were plentiful, though this was a misconception. The road to California was brutal and once the families made it to California, they found that the jobs were scarce there as well. This is the same premise as Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The Joads were a large family who lost their farm land to cotton growing companies because of the Dust Bowl drought. Each family member had their own image in their mind as to what California was going to be like. Ma envisioned a house with a picket fence, Grandpa wanted to see and feel and winery grapes, and Tom was more realistic in his expectations because of his time in prison. The family's perception and roles change when they eventually arrive in California. In my research, I found billboards to be the most influential aspect to making the misconception of California. 

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Family Farming in the 1930s


This exhibit examines the lives of agricultural familes and farm workers during the 1930s and 1940s. Particular interest and consideration is paid to the specific tasks and responsibilites of people of varying ages living on family owned farms, the daily activites or chores in which they participated, and the roles of specific family members and how these roles contributed to the overall lifestyle of farm families in the early-mid 20th century. Many of the first hand accounts collected through this exhibit are interviews with individuals who were growing up through these time periods, and they recall the experiences they had living on a farm. A few of the speakers even go so far as to compare their childhoods to that of the later generations who would never encounter the challenging and labor intensive work that was required of farming familes of their generations. Many of the instances described through the oral histories can also be correlated with John Steinbeck's novel "Grapes of Wrath" in the ways that we see responsibiltes delegated throughout the Joad family and how each person understands the role they are meant to play. Family dynamics on a farm, as exhibited through the sources in this collection, were fundementally important to the success and well-being of the farm land and subsequent prosperity of individuals within any given family. 

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Food of the Migrant Workers


This exhibit explores the food of the Okie migrant workers in California in the 1930s. This topic extends from what a meal looked like for Okies before they journeyed west and what their meals looked like during travel and in migrant camps. Also included are photographs of the utensils and tableware that the Okies used (which served as some of the important materials that were brought on their travels to California). Through photographs, recipes, and migrant camp newsletters, “Food of the Migrant Workers” provides a window into the diet and eating practices of the Okies in California.

As we see with the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, the amount of money that family members earned directly influenced what kind of food the family ate. Before the Joads leave their home in Oklahoma, they fantasize about the grapes and oranges that they will be able to pick and eat anytime they want in the promised land of California (83). But their dreams of eating fruit in the lush groves of California never come true. Despite being surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables, migrant workers were forbidden from eating food from the fields they were working, and fresh produce in general is a luxury that few could afford. Migrant families primarily subsisted on starch-based foods like potatoes, biscuits, and fried dough that would fill them up enough to complete a day’s work in the fields.

The estimated annual income of agricultural workers was $450 per family. This was not nearly enough to afford a healthy and balanced diet, and as a result rates of malnutrition and contagious diseases among migrant workers and families was high (Steinbeck Committee). As Steinbeck mentions in his novel pellagra,a disease caused by the deficiency in vitamin B, was common among migrant workers (DeMott 462). In a 1938 survey done by health authorities in the cotton camps of San Joaquin Valley, 17 percent of children suffered from malnutrition. A larger study done in more labor camps in this same area concluded that 28 percent of all children "lacked an adequate diet" (Gregory 64). Severe cases of pellagra and of malnutrition could lead to death.

Despite being faced with many afflictions, many of those centering around lack of money and food, migrant workers tried to persevere in California. Overall, “Food of the Migrant Workers” investigates the seemingly simple topic of food in order to show how the Okies sustained themselves and tried to make do with what they could afford in their new and unfamiliar surroundings.

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Migrant Children


This particular exhibit examines the lives of migrant or Okie children in California during the 1930s, especially in the context of labor, recreation, and family.  The roles of children-- like Ruthie and Winfield Joad from John Steinbeck's novel Grapes of Wrath-- shift dramatically as the needs and goals of the families also shift during the Dust Bowl Migration, on the road to the promised land of California.  Through photos, audio recordings, and more, "Migrant Children" effectively provides a lens into the forgotten lives of the youngest generation that experienced the overlooked tribulations and experiences such as: losing one’s home or land, moving an entire family across country, living in government camps or Hoovervilles, and even starvation and hunger.  Included sources seek to assist in building a more comprehensive understanding regarding how such a major historical event may have effected, or interrupted, the youthful sentience of childhood.  In Grapes of Wrath for example, the obstacles the Joad family encounters arguably have lasting effects on the youngest children, Winfield and Ruthie. Upon leaving Oklahoma, the world as they know it changes before their eyes, and everything becomes a brand new experience, like using toilets or picking peaches.  Overall, the exhibit "Migrant Children" captures both the mystery and hardship faced by Okie youth of migrant families, such as Winfield and Ruthie, in an effort to discover and share an entirely different perspective concerning migration to California, or what it means to build a new life from nothing in California in the 30s, especially as kid.

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Migrant Work In The 1930s

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A tidal wave of trubulation thunders its way across the land. A spear of fear is hurled through the hearts of hundreds of thousands, whose only hope is to hold their heads high... or die. Hope bleeds through the holes in their pockets. Yet, determination trudges on. Salvation awaits just ahead in the Promised Land.

In John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, readers are presented with a fictional representation of what many displaced families likely experienced in 1930s as a result of environmental, economic and social issues that swept their way across the country in what became known as the "Dust Bowl" era. In the face of economic hardship, migrant Americans traveled far away from their former homes and livelihoods in search of work that could sustain them and their families, hoping that eventually, they could establish a new home and life, for many, in California.  

This collection explores an array of common wage labor jobs performed by migrant workers all around the country during the great "Dust Bowl" migration of the 1930s. The range of jobs exhibited here consists largely of agricultural work—the type of work that the Joads sought out in The Grapes of Wrath, and among the most common sort of work that migrants found themselves engaged in, since California had such a large agricultural industry.



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Music and Community Building

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This exhibit is an attempt to conceptualize, capture, and illustrate the music created by the Okies. For the Okies, music served multiple purposes including, as a medium to record the migrant experience, and as a method to construct a community within an unwelcoming environment.   

Okies' Music in the Work Camp

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Welcome to my exhibition. The "Okies' Music in the Work Camp" is an exhibit that attempts to make a connection between the music that the migrant workers created and performed and the music reference that appears in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I hope you will find the context and artifacts that you encounter in this exhibit helpful in expanding your knowledge about the worldview that Steinbeck depicts in the Grapes of Wrath.

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This exhibit is an exploration of Oklahoma's flora and fauna during the 1930s. Both the landscape and its animals have direct relationships with the social and cultural atmosphere of Oklahoma. From food and shelter to mythology and spirituality, these concepts are shaped and colored by their immersion in wildlife. This exhibit will explore the literal presence of Oklahoma's flora and fauna as well their human, cultural effects; how people thought about their place in the world and how people considered their means and resources is more deeply explored and expanded upon here.

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