Materialism and Inhumanity in John steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl
par Abdourahmane Diouf
Université Cheikh anta Diop de Dakar - Maitrise D'Anglais 2008
Table of contents
CHAPTER I : A MOUNTING ACQUISITIVENESS 6
1 - THE INFLUENCE OF CAPITALISM 7
2 - AN ACQUISITIVE COMMUNITY. 11
A - DEFINITION 11
B - THE SOCIAL AND MORAL VALUES IN JEOPARDY 12
CHAPTER II : DRAWBACKS OF MECHANIZATION 16
1 - A NEW AGRARIAN SYSTEM 17
2 - MAN'S CRUELTY TO MAN 19
A - SELFISHNESS AND HYPOCRISY 20
B - THE TRAGEDY OF THE SURVIVORS 31
CHAPTER III : ANALYSIS OF THE NARRATIVE TECHNIQUES 59
1 - LANGUAGE 60
2 - MOOD 67
· First of all, I present my heartfelt recognition to God, The Almighty, for giving me the possibility to further my studies, to undertake and complete a M.A dissertation.
· I'm also deeply grateful to my dear parents who first sent me to school.
· I avail mysel of this opportunity to extend my warmest thanks to a certain number of people, particularly my supervisor Dr Daouda Loum for his availability and sense of sharing. Once again I thank him because his assistance is the cornerstone of this laborious work.
· Along with my supervisor, I'd like to earnestly thank all the Professors at the English department for their permanent efforts to help students have a good command of English.
· In a simple way, I express my deepest gratitude to the members of my family for keep on praying for me in the course of this demanding task.
· Likewise, I cannot forget to thank my friends and schoolfellows who somehow have contributed their efforts and the benefit of their knowledge to the writing of this work.
· Finally, I would like to express special thanks to my beloved late parents who gathered all along their lives sacrifices and resources for the triumph of their adorable little son.
I dedicate this work to :
my father El Hadji Modiane DIOUF,
ë my mother Mame Coumba DIOUF,
ë my aunt Maïmouna SENE,
ë my brother Ibrahima DIOUF.
May peace and blessing be upon them. Amen.
Materialism is a belief that reality simply consists of material objects. For the materialists, the method of production in material life determines the general nature of the social, political and spiritual process of life. In fact, the notion of materialism intends to seize man as product of his activity, determined by the economic conditions. The concept is rational and based on what one can see, feel and hear.
The materialists have often partiality for money, excessive desire for comforts, unlimited search of pleasure and selfishness. Materialism is a conception that stems from a growing capitalism during the thirties in America. Capitalism obliges most of the population to espouse a materialistic way of life. This new behavior is based only on the quest for profit by all means in order to achieve one's goals.
It is in this regard that Steinbeck explores the materialistic lifestyle of his community through his two novels: The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl. He resorts to these two novels to criticize the acquisitive behavior which only consists in fulfilling at all cost one's financial desires. This belief incites people to be selfish so far as to scorn the noble human values which, in a certain way, is the cause of all pains that American working class had undergone during the thirties.
Materialism places all hopes, desires and needs in material objects rather than pay consideration to moral qualities, meaning altruism, dignity, and solidarity. In reality, the materialists only seek to reach social success. Consequently, they have a way of life that regulates everything exclusively in terms of material prosperity and earthly satisfactions.
And as an eyewitness to this situation, Steinbeck shows how the American society functions within a culture deep-rooted in material ideals. For instance, people are judged from the sum of money they have, rather than from their moral principles. So, getting money is seen as the highest target, something that is sought out as of prime necessity. Though everybody does not adhere to it, materialism tends to affect one's thoughts and actions. But Steinbeck's real purpose is to reject this kind of materialism in all its forms in order to advocate a society whose moral values are enhanced. Yet, in the American society, everyone's dream is to become rich. The ambition is to have a lot of money no matter how, and as the saying goes «money doesn't have odor». In other words, certain people hardly worry about the manner by which they earn money provided that they get enough.
Before the industrial revolution the economy was based on small scale farming with archaic implements. The agriculture was intended to feed population. With the introduction of machines in the field of industry and agriculture, the economy had wide ranging ambitions. Now the agriculture changed from manual farming to industrial agriculture. Otherwise the tractors took the small farmers' place. A lot of progress was made in the field of techniques so that man was able to master the land because of more competitive tools. Not only did the mechanization create a climate of hostility between landowners and workers but it caused a change both in behavior and upbringing.
Materialism can be also defined as a conception privileging material achievement. Whereas the term capitalism is defined as «a competitive economic system based on the private property and the search of profit» as it is said by Adam Smith in his novel The Wealth of Nation1(*). This book sheds light on the new law governing the economic process by substituting the natural established order to the natural order of price and labor (law of supply and demand).
In fact, the link between materialism and capitalism results from the fact that the latter gave birth to the former that has governed the American society from the thirties up to now. Capitalism, with its conception is the cause of the excessive materialism of capitalists which make them be inhumane. And given that the change of the country is unavoidable, Steinbeck proposed to «adapt oneself», because it was the only way to survive in a country which has already taken materialism as its way of life.
As a journalist, Steinbeck is able to show the debasement of human nature from the mechanization of the agriculture to the capitalism after the First World War. And through the Joad family's hard destiny who struggles to maintain their pride after they became migrant laborers at the mercy of the rich, Steinbeck manages to epitomize the fate of the whole American lower class. So, it is in the middle of depression that the author of The Pearl denounces the misdeeds done to the new immigrants who were pushed to revolt by intense and heartless materialism. Consequently, Steinbeck is able to translate his experience with the migrants into realism that evokes concern and understanding in the readers. The conclusion of The Pearl and The Grapes of Wrath is at the same time an occasion to question the authentic nature of man.
The interest of the topic is to show how the materialistic behavior incites people to act cruelly while putting the emphasis on an intense pursuit of material prosperity and a loss of moral values.
The topic is divided into three parts:
In the first place, there is a historic interest. In this respect, we think it is fundamental to deal with the impact of acquisitiveness and show how it changed the American society.
In the second part of the work, we try to explore the mechanization process during the thirties in which there is a quest of survival for the poor community. This part evinces both the dark face of the United States while showing a similar misery could exist in the country we are used to considering through the American dream as morally strong and see, to some extent, how materialism can be inhumane.
The final part of the work is devoted to the analysis of the narrative techniques. We try to demonstrate how Steinbeck uses a familiar language and bitter mood to communicate his emotions.
* 1 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nation. Translated: Recherche sur la nature et les causes de la richesse des nations,
1776, Livre I, .Ed Les Grands Thèmes Paris Gallimard, 1976, p. 154