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NOVEL REFLECTIONS ON THE AMERICAN DREAM

NARRATOR: Here, among the families who had lost everything, been derided as lazy, dirty, the first stirrings of John Steinbeck's "big book" began to emerge.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH: "We ain't no bums," Tom insisted. "We're lookin' for work. We'll take any kind of work."

The young man paused in fitting the brace to the valve slot. He looked in amazement at Tom. "Lookin' for work?" he said. "So you're lookin' for work. What ya think ever'body else is lookin' for? Di'monds? What you think I wore my ass down to the nub look'n for?"

GLORIA NAYLOR: What you see the Joads doing, and what this book becomes, is a sort of quest for one's humanity, and that humanity is equated to having some kind of substantial work. So what, the Joads keep moving from place to place to place, looking for a chance to work. Looking for a chance to be human.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH: Tom saw Uncle John and Pa and the preacher hoisting the tarpaulin on the tent poles and Ma on her knees inside, brushing off the mattress on the ground. A circle of quiet children stood to watch the new family get settled, quiet children with bare feet and dirty faces. Tom said, "Back home some fellas come through with han'bills -- orange ones. Says they need lots a people out here to work the crops."

The young man laughed. "They say they's three hundred thousan' us folks here, an' I bet ever' dam' fam'ly seen them han'bills."

"Yeah, but if they don' need folks, what'd they go to the trouble puttin' them things out for?"

GLORIA NAYLOR: The American Dream helps to keep a society contained, because then an individual believes, like the Joads for example, in The Grapes of Wrath, that if I'm not prospering, if I'm not attaining these things, there's something that I'm not doing. It's not that the society is flawed, or the system is flawed or weighted, it's just that there's something wrong within me.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH: "Look," the young man said. "S'pose you got a job at work, an' there's jus' one fella wants the job. You got to pay 'im what he asts. But s'pose they's a hundred men." He put down his tool. His eyes hardened and his voice sharpened. "S'pose they's a hundred men wants that job. S'pose them men got kids, an' them kids is hungry. S'pose a lousy dime'll buy a box a mush for them kids. S'pose a nickel'll buy at leas' somepin for them kids. An' you got a hundred men. Jus' offer 'em a nickel—why, they'll kill each other fightin' for that nickel."

Tom said, "That's stinkin'."

The young man laughed harshly. "You stay out he a little while, an' if you smell any roses, you come let me smell, too."


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The American Novel