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Investigation of the Identity Crisis in Both ‘the Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Tobacco Road’

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    Identity is a self-exploratory concept with a scope beyond all the defined boundaries that an individual and the corresponding society has set. If not provided with a universal sense and association, the illusion of identity can trap people in a never-ending cycle of self-preservation, prejudice, pride and arrogance. The world can prosper only when both the individual identity and societal identity transforms into a cosmic identity. Investigation of the identity crisis in both ‘The grapes of wrath’ and ‘Tobacco road’ can be based on the philosophy of life itself, but the process of imparting a meaning to the readers entails a rudimentary understanding of the struggles faced by each character during the great depression and the yearning to reclaim their place. Henceforth, an examination of identity in both the personal and social facet is vital.

    Noorbakhsh Hooti et al (2013) analyzed the nature and basis of the characters in ‘The grapes of wrath’ according to the framework of postmodern era. The authors recognized a persistent discrepancy of the characters’ identity throughout the course of time and surroundings. The discrete contexts lead to unpredictable actions by them. The transformation of people’s individuality from present to future periods is well concluded through the literature. People’s grit could break the barriers in this modern era and equate themselves with the multidimensional aspects of this world. The study showed the unlimited possibilities of learning.

    Jill (2006) explained the evolution of Joad’s family from an individualistic approach which focussed on preserving their birthland to a socialistic perspective that extended to the whole community. A transcendental connection to nature is achieved through social pacification. Dust bowl brought about the true capitalistic characteristics of people who exploited the natural resources to a greater degree. Apparently, the family strives for the betterment of the whole humanity rather than being self-centric. Cultural differences are set aside, and a unification is established with the natural world.

    Karen (2002) reports the sterilization of a particular section of population who are responsible for petty and large-scale crimes. The author insists that these same traits are inherited and passed on to further generations abandoning the possibility to correct themselves morally. Caldwell had strongly criticized the behaviour of landlord John who left the Lesters to a point of famish. It is said that the ‘Tobacco Road’ comprises of enough incidences which prove the suffering case of poor people no matter how hard they work and rise above the discriminations in the society.

    Janet Holtman (2014) pointed out the social interventions discussed in ‘Tobacco Road’ and ‘Let us now praise famous men’, thus correlating each with their own time period of importance. Janet disregards that the ‘Tobacco Road’ failed to resurface the rural poverty of the white people, mainly the southerners and discerns that it rather corresponded to a former societal digressive establishment. Further it is inferred that the society that is thriving today is shaped by the literature in the earlier twentieth century and has thus enhanced the cultural values to a more inclusive form. The picture of rural people showed in today’s world has a lot of connection to the literary texts of the past.

    A major economic despair struck the United States during 1930’s creating severe famine and identity crisis for the people of nation which made them abandon their livelihood and search for a new habitat. The book addresses the issue where a large population had to travel to California leaving behind their birthland at Oklahoma. They had set out on a self-discovery not willfully but rather forcefully due to the dust bowl. The author John Steinbeck gave a whole new perspective to what is considered to be a global identity rather than individualistic. With agriculture being the only profession for the people at 1930’s, each individual had to hunt for a fertile land for their survival. Besides this everyone kept alive the saying “Unity is strength” and brought about a new definition.

    The author explains the context of dust bowl and its effects through Joad’s family. Steinbeck builds a hasty spokesman ‘Jim Casy’ who is a religious fanatic at the beginning to a most matured and evolved caretaker for most of the population that is migrating from Oklahoma.

    Men in the households were determined even though their corn fields were damaged and this in turn advanced the self-assurance of women as they continued to look after the families.

    Tom Joad’s rage and aggression overshadows his fine and tranquil qualities explicated by the incident where Tom lashes out at the truck driver’s inquisitiveness in his personal affairs. Joad family’s brawl to overcome their intimidating situation is specified being a metaphor where an old turtle strives to cross the highway carrying oat bread in its mouth. Here the author manages to bring about the intensity of famine affected people’s reality. Tom realizes the broiling state of the turtle and grabs him in his hide. He witnesses Jim Casy praying under a tree, slowly approaching the preacher but Jim denies his sanctity and seems helpless. The philosophy of life where both sin and virtue are part of the same universe is implied by Steinbeck who makes sure that Jim comes into terms with his own contrasting behaviours.

    The farmers are distressed when their lands are destroyed by the banks which decide that sharecropping can’t yield anymore profits due to the dust bowl. Here Steinbeck describes the sadistic nature of economically viable organizations towards the common people. With Tom being unaware of the incidents concerning his homeland, he is shocked to observe that the Joad’s house is decimated to the core. Muley explains the whole scenario and Tom realizes that it’s better for him and Casy to settle in Uncle John’s house. Tom recognizes all would turn out good, when he manages the money to reach California. Croppers plan to trade their land to purchase vehicles that can transport them to California, but they are exploited by the supply of wretched vehicles as the traders take advantage of people’s condition. Again, the author defines the capitalistic nature of businessmen of the contemporary western world.

    The vision of Jim is fulfilled only through Ma Joad’s activities that embrace the whole humanity providing everyone a hands-on and practicable spirituality. Ma evolves from a regular woman who loves her family to a more welcoming and universal character. Tom is time and again been taught a lesson that people must work in unison to survive any hostile circumstances. When the family reaches a camp on the highway route 66 which is the main roadway that takes them to the western part of the country, they meet Wilson’s family whose car had a breakdown. The unfortunate death of Granpa and the inclusion of a new household addresses the spontaneous need of harmony. Ma Joad now officially breaks the limited identity of her family and extend arms to other people. In the meanwhile, Tom changes from a gratified and rebellious being to a more empathetic person accepting people outside his family which is a result of the godly relation with Jim Casy. The whole America undergoes a transformation where the capitalism is demolished as the general population progresses towards more uniform nature of existence, embracing the whole world.

    Even though the farmers be in harmony with other people, the rich and idle people moving to the west have their own share of pointless displeasure. The poor are seen to possess a large threat with their accord and rigidity. As the journey proceeds single family turns into multiple families and eventually becomes a community. People build their own set of rules to follow that discourses the share of food, shelter and about being calm at certain situations that can provide a sense of relief to the whole hardworking community. Rational and pragmatical living is adopted by the migrating population as an example is set for the whole humankind.

    The Joad’s family reach the valley just before California, leaving behind the Wilson’s family as they could not afford to cross the desert at night. Granma suffers a sudden death due to her sickness but Ma Joad considering the welfare of others refuses to reveal this incident to the inspectors. Ma’s valour upsurges to each exertion that emanates in her way. In Bakersfield, California, the community establish a tent where Ma Joad feeds the children and helps the public to be together inspite of the danger the local police possess. Casy sacrifices his life to serve in prison, as he saves Tom because of his parole and this event takes place when Floyd demands a wage from a job contractor. The village is burned that night and Joad’s family being helpless flees the place. The family arrives at a government encampment and settles there. The new community is respectful and provide a secure atmosphere where they don’t need to migrate again. Forthcoming instance where a group of people in the camp unite and stop a fight that is about to happen because of three new immigrants prove the transition of identity from individualism to universality.

    Tobacco road, an Erskine Caldwell’s masterpiece set during the great depression describes the hardship of Lester’s family in countryside of Georgia. The expansion of fibre manufacturing overshadowed the cotton-picking business which the family had undertaken for a long time. The central character of the book, Jeeter Lester farms the land where his grandfather once cultivated tobacco. The rise of poverty among the population due to the dust bowl is mainly focussed in the book. Jeeter’s twelve-year-old daughter Pearl is wedded to Lov Bensey who is a personal friend to the Lester’s. Lov argues over Jeeter about Pearl who refuses to live with him, Jeeter is not even involved to help Lov face the circumstances concerning Pearl. Ada, Jeeter’s wife is well aware that Pearl wants to establish herself and be independent. Pearl had inherited the same character of her father. Jeeter seeing this opportunity tries to take away the turnips that were bought by Lov costing 55 cents. The seizure happened when Lov is enchanted by Ellie May. Jeeter remembered that Lov disagreed to marry May due to her harelip disease. Lester’s tried to cure her of this disease but now that their landlord Harmon had cut off their funds for the farmland, it is impossible for the family to afford anything.

    Jeeter Lester’s is desperate to steal the turnips at any cost to serve his daily bread. He consumes most of the turnips, disgusted by his deeds he distributes some of the turnips to Dude and Sister Bessie. A prayer is made for everyone by Bessie who gets enthusiastic by Dude’s presence and almost forgets to find the words to pray. Bessie suggests that the Lord has commanded her to marry Dude and they both must preach to the whole community. Sister’s previous marriage had not turned out well as her husband died and his assets worth around thousand dollars. Eventually, Dude and Bessie’s marriage gets consummated with a valid authorization.

    The afresh wedded couple traverse through the countryside in their brand-new car hoping to have a romantic outing. The car seems to have dented and not performing to its fullest throttle. Bessie wonders at this as they had spent a wholesome amount on this vehicle. Dude recollects that a black man that drove a wagon is hit and run by their car which didn’t bother them to any level. Bessie even goes to an extent where she accuses the black man for getting on the way. Dude being distressed by the occurrence finds comfort in the arms of his grandmother. Bessie and Jeeter find him sleeping peacefully next to the grandma. Jeeter Lester travels with the couple to Augusta for trading firewood. The futile car engine due to a smaller amount of oil makes it tough for the group to reach their corresponding destination. Even though they manage to reach Augusta, no salesman is willing to purchase the firewood and the additional car tire lends them cash for survival. The further happenings such as argument over Jeeter’s son Tom, the inability to sell the firewood makes Jeeter angry as it ends up in a quarrel between him and Bessie. The rage of Sister Bessie is also due to the harassment that she went through in Augusta because of Jeeter. She in turn abandons Lester’s to drive the car. Jeeter furiously hits her, Dude and Bessie flee away in their car and due to the urgency, kill grandmother Lester.

    Meanwhile Lov’s wife Pearl runs away from him and Jeeter manages to patch up May and Lov together. Jeeter conspires to steal some of Lov’s belongings and bring them home. Lov finds grandmother being unconscious in the ground and eventually discovers about her death. He helps Ada and buries grandmother. After the death of his mother, Jeeter tries to prepare the plantation to make maximum profit of the rainy season. He burns the fields for the cultivation and this in turn scorches away his house along with Jeeter and Ada as they sleep at night.

    The author tries to match the large population of the great depression with the Lester’s, whose motive is to satisfy their daily needs irrespective of any morality whatsoever. The dark side of poverty is well described by Caldwell. A never-ending cycle of bad cultivation from their land turned the Lester’s lazy and uncivilized. The Lester’s both Jeeter and Dude, get into a loop of agony because of their unrealistic hopes ignoring the fact that there is not even enough money to buy seeds for plantation.

    A study of people’s struggle for their identity in the midst of the great depression is established in a distinctive method for both the ‘grapes of wrath’ and ‘tobacco road’. The first book by Steinbeck is viewed from an evolutionary and a spiritual angle whereas the personal impact of eugenics movement can be seen to influence Erskine Caldwell’s tobacco road. A more contrasting image is set when we compare these great literary works. A satirical effect of the great depression on the rural white people is brought about by Caldwell ignoring the social conditions of his period. A sense of braveness seeps through the authors dark theme in the book which has touched a million of hearts as they read the tobacco road. The contemporary books explaining poverty, depression, racism, discrimination, war and survival inspire from Steinbeck and Caldwell.

    The individualism of people is kept aside and a harmony for the greater wellbeing of people is recognized by Steinbeck. The migrated people who reached California from various Dust Bowl affected areas have a greater role in building the prosperous and magnificent city that we see today. Ma Joad is an embodiment of love and compassion as she significantly proves that a universal identity must be adopted to bring the whole humankind together. A strength of unity prevails when the workers unite at the final base camp. The case where even a most self-centered person such as Tom can transform into an empathetic, lovable and welcoming individual is strongly officiated. The Lester’s experienced an extent of despair when nothing regarding the plantation seemed beneficial. Instead of moving to a new alternative they become obnoxious and intolerable even within their own family. The failure to accept their reality and adapt to changing conditions of life cost the family more losses in terms of money, time and life. The author here urges the readers to understand the impact of societal and economical pressure on common people. A cessation of self-belief can prove fatal in such periods of depression and crisis. Therefore, Steinbeck and Caldwell encourage the practice of universal identity, unity, harmony, perseverance and adaptability.

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    Investigation of the Identity Crisis in Both ‘the Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Tobacco Road’. (2021, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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