The Grapes of Wrath
The line of descent from The Octopus to The Grapes of Wrath is as direct as any that can be found in American literature. The journey of the Okies in Steinbeck's book is certainly in the spirit of one of those "various fightings westward" that Norris identified as productive of epic writing: "Just that long and terrible journey from the Mississippi to the ocean is an epic in itself."1 As one would expect, too, the later book reflects a more advanced stage of economic development, presenting as it does the struggle of proletarian masses against capitalist power, while the conflict in The Octopus is between two parties of the owning class, the ranchers, or small entrepreneurs, against the trust. Both novels have a universalizing tendency in that they create from a local situation a synecdoche of worldwide import. Thus Steinbeck's Okies, having all the surface characteristics of rural Americans of a certain region, are essentially farmers suddenly reduced by natural catastrophe and economic process to the status of unskilled laborers. Theirs is a cataclysmic predicament of the twentieth century. In the course of the journey imposed upon them they learn to identify themselves as a separate class and then to discover and develop leaders who will guide them in their effort to reestablish themselves in society. The Grapes of Wrathis a thoroughly didactic epic novel: an exploited group discovers that it is being exploited, that it is, indeed, a new class in society, the
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Publication information: Book title: Heroic Fiction:The Epic Tradition and American Novels of the Twentieth Century. Contributors: Leonard Lutwack - Author. Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press. Place of publication: Carbondale, IL. Publication year: 1971. Page number: 47.
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