Fond bitcoin pour l'amélioration du site: 1memzGeKS7CB3ECNkzSn2qHwxU6NZoJ8o
  Dogecoin (tips/pourboires): DCLoo9Dd4qECqpMLurdgGnaoqbftj16Nvp

Home | Publier un mémoire | Une page au hasard


Materialism and Inhumanity in John steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl

( Télécharger le fichier original )
par Abdourahmane Diouf
Université Cheikh anta Diop de Dakar - Maitrise D'Anglais 2008

précédent sommaire suivant

Bitcoin is a swarm of cyber hornets serving the goddess of wisdom, feeding on the fire of truth, exponentially growing ever smarter, faster, and stronger behind a wall of encrypted energy



«We were poor people with a hell of a lot of land

which made us think we were rich people,»-J. Steinbeck


To better analyze the influence of capitalism during the thirties or more precisely in the American culture, we need to view Steinbeck's background in the first place.

John Ernest Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902 and attended Stanford University intermittently between 1920 and 1926. Steinbeck did not graduate from Stanford but instead chose to support himself through manual labor while writing. Here we may notice that Steinbeck's experience among the working classes in California lends authenticity to his depiction of the lives of the poor workers who are the central characters of his most important novels. Steinbeck spent much of his life in Monterey County, which later was the setting of some of his fiction.

In fact, these laborers were always obliged to remove from their motherlands for better living conditions. From then on they start losing contact with their society or their family unit. Feeling a sense of social displacement and marginalization, poor farmers were doomed to remain in a position of drift and inadequacy. Now they have to endure a miserable existence devoid of real social and political identity.

Under such circumstances, Steinbeck suffered a symbolic sense of homelessness. His withdrawal from Stanford University to support the working classes is the cornerstone on which The Grapes of Wrath is based. It is in this regard that he received a Pulitzer Prize, a national Book Award. Steinbeck is not satisfied with the American individualism that inculcates a sense of bitterness in him, for poor people are cruelly exploited by a ruthless system of agricultural economy. Steinbeck turns out to be unsympathetic to the American materialism where all sense of real dignity and unshakable human values are practically non-existent. Thus, people aspire extremely to material success as the main concern in life. In his novella, The Pearl, Steinbeck has real concerns about the Mexican-Americans' greediness. Actually, Steinbeck gainsays any extreme acquisitiveness to material success through cruelty and hypocrisy and to which the American society can refer with a view to better make their life, acquire selfishly more wealth, power and consequently moving ahead. As for Steinbeck, the American poor farmers are devoid of great achievements effected by the extreme materialism of rich people as far back as one can remember in history:

«California belonged to Mexico and its Mexicans. But a horde of feverish American poured in,

with such great hunger for the land they took it over. They imported Chinese, Japanese, Mexican

and Filipino workers who became essentially slaves.» 2(*)

For Steinbeck, the country has been established through oppression and inhuman exploitation for long standing years. In the American society, capitalists cannot lean on their cultural values and pride of their social success. The rich people therein are heavily reliant on poor community to better their life. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck compares the American people as «Tattered and feverish». In The Grapes of Wrath, his harsh criticism of money-oriented aspiration is more leveled against the rich landowners in America during the thirties. The Americans also know that the first settlers who are firmly attached to their lands couldn't be dominated unless they were inhumanly oppressed. The American settlers consciously think it's fundamental to place premium on both land occupation and economic strategy as an efficient means whereby so-called «Okies»3(*) population can easily adopt selfish and materialistic behaviors. American landowners fight tooth and nails to lay hand on the lands to reinforce their positions therein to have what Edward Said calls in his book «real control on power.»4(*)

The Americans adopt a selfish money-oriented mind when it comes to looking for money. Thus, they focus on their own interest rather than comply with the moral values. The notion of individualism is given momentum in the industrialized American society. The sense of egalitarian society which should have been preserved is rejected to the detriment of harsh competition for wealth. Steinbeck, a punctilious observer of social failure in America, deplores the fading away of communal existence that is superseded by individualism and unlimited desire for material comfort. In America, people have grown into money-minded behavior and living selfishly. This fact is noticeable through Naipaul's quotation:«Money means a good deal more. Only a man's eccentricities can get him attention»5(*)

The extreme desire for wealth in this society demolished the common bond between people rather than gathered the poor community whose primary concern is to live in a decent way. But wealth brings about a terrible sense of individualism in the American society. In Steinbeck's The Pearl, for example, such characters as the Priest and the Doctor are corrupted by their acquisitive desire for money. The painful thing is that instead of working hard on their own to earn money, both men simply rely on Kino's precious pearl. The Doctor, after refusing before to restore to health Kino's son, wants to heal Coyottito because now Kino has money. Likewise the Priest of La-paz village who hopes to gain possession of the pearl and achieves social status for himself sells the sacrament in the name of the church. The problem with these opportunists is that they pretend to befriend with Kino which is nothing but a pretext that holds the key to their personal gains.

The pearl-buyers as well as the Priest or the Doctor are so deeply corrupted that they go so far as to hurt Kino. These people put forward more their wishes for personal advantages than the binding interest of the whole nation. This is also a stark reality in The Pearl wherein man's quest for wealth and property leads to the self-destruction of man, both mentally and physically.

By the same token, Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath assesses the fragmentation of his community where people suffer a sense of individual displacement. This dislodgment is mainly caused by the excessive materialism of rich property-owners. Moreover, this sense of individualism is put to the extreme in the American society where rich landowners hate poor farmers instead of getting together to establish a peaceful life in the society.

As we know, Capitalism is an economic theory which stresses that control of the means of producing economic goods in a society should reside in the hands of those who invest the capital for production. In such a system, individuals have the right to own and use wealth to earn income, to sell and purchase labor for wages. Thus, one can see through The Grapes of Wrath that this economic system is effective because the landowners, the holders of all goods dictate the laws of the market. As for Steinbeck, the individuals are ruled by concepts. The cohesive relations are replaced by the personal relation of dependence whereas the accumulation of capital becomes an end in itself, which is largely irrational. The irrational nature of this economic system is that it compels people to become so thoughtlessly materialistic that it causes social regression, brutal process of plundering, murder and exploitation. This fact is described by Steinbeck with the term «monster»6(*) because of the brutality of this economic system.

The influence of Capitalism over poor people is, to a large extent, negative because capitalists shatter the poor community while impinging on their way of living. In doing so, rich people set up an economic system that keeps the working class always poor. Then, they seek to starve poor farmers and consolidate their privileges and inevitably engender an extreme acquisitiveness.

* 2 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath; New York, Viking Press, 1939, Chap.19, p. 254

* 3 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, op. cit., p. 257

* 4 Edward. W. Said., Culture and Imperialism, New York, Vintage Books Edition, a division of Random House,

Inc, June 1994, p.XII. First published in New York in 1993 in Hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf.

* 5 V.S. Naipaul, «London», The Times Literary Supplement, August 1958. Excerpted from Critical Perspectives On V.S. Naipaul, pp. 5 - 6.

* 6 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, op. cit., p. 35

précédent sommaire suivant

Bitcoin is a swarm of cyber hornets serving the goddess of wisdom, feeding on the fire of truth, exponentially growing ever smarter, faster, and stronger behind a wall of encrypted energy

"Nous voulons explorer la bonté contrée énorme où tout se tait"   Appolinaire