In 1929 the Stock Market crashed, leaving the United States in a deep economic crisis known as the “Great depression.” As a consequence of this crisis many people lost everything they had, banks closed, and the cost of life increased considerably. Families such as the Joads in Steinbeck's “The Grapes of Wrath” were forced to move from their land, and search for new jobs and better ways of living elsewhere. Elsewhere was not any place in the United States; with the manifest destiny and the longing for expansion, elsewhere meant California. For the Joad family, as well as for all migrants, California was their dream come true: plenty of jobs, white houses, and as much fruit as they wished to eat. However, the Joad's hopes and expectations were crushed by the reality of the conditions in California.
The Joad's expectations of California are clearly shown in Ma's expression “But I like to think how nice it's gonna be, maybe, in California. Never cold. An' fruite ever'place, an' people just bein' in the nicest places, little white houses in among the orange trees. I wonder - that is, if we all get jobs an' all work- maybe we can get one of them little white houses. An' the little fellas go out an' pick oranges right off the tree.” (Steinbeck, 118). They had been lied to by the handbills they received from California saying they needed workers, and that made them construct an ideal view of California that was completely false. As the Joad family arrives in to California, they face the crude reality of a job they've been dreaming about and that did not really exist. The only intention of the handbills was to gather as many migrants as the landowners could in order to offer them jobs for very low prices. With this strategy the Joad's goals were unreachable and only hunger and misery were to be accomplished.
During the journey to California, the Joads and other migrant travelers encountered many warnings of what California was going to be like. Steinbeck, at the beginning of the story, let the reader realize this by using a turtle as a symbol. A turtle is traveling west, but as she tries to make her journey she face many obstacles. The most representative obstacle is when a truck driver from a very large company tried to hit the turtle. The turtle symbolizes the migrants traveling west, and the truck driver represents the powerful companies that will take advantage of the migrant's situation in every moment in the story.
Also, other migrants that were returning home and that met the Joad family on their journey warned them of California's real situation. Most of these migrants were poor, hungry farmers that could not make a living from picking fruits in California and that had gone there for the same reasons the Joads were traveling now. Their first warning was from a ragged man at the camp on the side of the road. The ragged man told them about his experience in California, how the landowners picked the workers, how fertile land was not being farmed, and about the migrant's poor situation. He said, referring to what had happen to him, “Sompin it took me a year to find out. Took two kids dead, took my wife dead to show me…Them children died a heart failure. Put it on his paper. Shiverin', they was, an' their bellies stuck out like a pig bladder.” (245).
The Joad family received another warning by the river where they stop to camp. A man and his son that were returning home from California told them why they were returning home. They described California as a nice and pretty country, but full of limitations and discrimination toward the migrants. The man said “Sure, nice to look at, but you can't have none of it. They's a grove of yellow oranges - an' a guy with a gun that got the right to kill you if you touch one.” (265) This is the second opinion that the Joad family received about California, and still they haven't heard anything encouraging. Even though they might have backed away from their purpose of going west, they did not do it. When Pa asked Uncle John about what he thought about everything the man had said, Uncle John replied, “ We're going there, ain't we? None of this here talk gonna keep us from goin' there. When we get there, we'll get there. When we get a job, we'll work, an' when we don't get a job we'll set on our tails. This here talk ain't gonna do no good no way.” (267) This phrase is more of an encouragement for the family since Uncle John talks of facing together any situation they might encounter when they get to California. They all knew that there is no way back from this journey since they left everything they had behind, and their only future now was California.
When the Joad family finally arrived into California they tasted the sour taste of reality. The Joad's realized that everything they'd heard about the land that wasn't being used to produce any crop, was true. They encountered the Hoovervilles and experienced the discrimination and poor conditions in which migrants were forced to live. And they had to go through the undeserved hatred of the sheriffs and the Californian people toward them. When they finally experienced all this mixture of emotions and segregation, the last remaining dream the Joad family once had about California was now completely eradicated from their minds. After all this, the Joad's incredible and heroic ability to overcome all odds and obstacles they had to face is clearly shown. They stayed together as a family after all and together helped themselves and others through the harsh situations.
In conclusion, the Joad's journey to California was a trip in which the great expectations they had were the motor for their need to go on. Through the story, Steinbeck manifests his believe of “The body destroyed but the spirit not broken”, his hatred for corruption, and his faith in common people. This is clearly shown in how the Joad family fought together to overcome adversity. California was no “promised land” after all, only a dream that was broken by its cruel reality.
Steinbeck, John. “The Grapes of Wrath”. Penguin books: New York, 1976. 118, 245, 265, 267.