“Steinbeck’s myth of the Okies”

Having read the article, “Steinbeck’s myth of the Okies” by Keith Windschuttle, I was unaware of how much Steinbeck stretched the truth in his novel. While reading The Grapes of Wrath, I imagined the Joad family’s suffering and unfortunate conditions to be similar to all of the migrants migrating from the Midwest to California.

I imagined cars filled with heavy luggages and cooking utensils, and big families trying to all fit into the compacted automobile. Yet, once I started to read Windschuttle’s article, I realized that this was untrue.

depression_migrants_ca_truck
©2006 Madden [ Public Domain]
For one, it was not usual to have such a big family migrating to California; the most common trekkers from the southwest to California were composed of an average of 4.4  members. Only twenty percent of households included other relations (Windschuttle 3).

Also, while reading the Grapes of Wrath book, I was dumbfounded of how naive the Joad family was. While driving the California, they have encountered signs of struggle and were warned of how poor the working conditions were; yet they still went on to California. However, according to Windschuttle, Gregory, a historian who studied and wrote about the background of the Okie migrants, argued that, “The real migrants were much better informed; most had direct information about working conditions from relatives already there” (4).

This statement seemed more realistic to me than the ignorantly hopeful farmers described in Steinbeck’s novel.

What also surprised me in the Grapes of Wrath novel was the huge amount of farmers losing their land and (almost all) heading out to California. Yet ,in the “Steinbeck’s myth of Okies” article, Gregory points out that only less than 16,000 people from the dust-affected areas went to California; barely six percent of the total from the southwestern states (2).

Keith Windschuttle not only states very interesting – eye-opening – arguments contradicting Steinbeck’s descriptions of the migrants’ lives during Great Depression, but also has many evidence supporting his arguments, and a very strong source. Combining both his compelling arguments with many strong supporting evidence makes me more inclined to believe him and his claim of Steinbeck exaggerating the migrants’ conditions during the 1930s.

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