I just finished watching the Henry Fonda movie, "The Grapes of Wrath" and was trying to sort it all out. Firstly, I thought it was set in the Great Depression, but it doesn't say that anywhere in the movie specifically.
There are a number of interesting issues I was thinking about, and wondered if anybody else had thought about it too.
Was it wrong for the all the sharecroppers to be kicked off the land? It seems to me that it comes down to what defines property. The Common Law idea of property is that the people who work it and cultivate it own it, but that's not what happened in the movie. Are we supposed to feel bad for all these poor sharecroppers because of the evil bankers and the evil new machines? There seems to be an argument against technology and innovation because people lose their jobs...I think Hazlitt dealt with this, but I don't remember it exactly.
And so all these people went out west, only to find that there were way too many workers and not enough work. I thought it was interesting that the best place the Joad family lived in was the Dept. of Agriculture camp. Apparently the government can run beautiful, happy, organized camps, but the private camps are full of squalor, despair, and filth.
So what are we to think of the Keene Ranch, where workers were being paid 5 cents a bucket (or box, or crate, or something like that), and then they broke the strike, they started getting paid 2 and 1/2 cents? Again, it appears like these are evil business people taking advantage of desperate people...and so we need the government to solve all our problems.
Anyways...just curious what ideas other people have on this movie and what it portrays.
It is definitely set during the great depression. (It's also a novel by Steinbeck!) I read the book I think in 1997 but haven't touched it since then. I remember the parts you're describing but I don't remember any of the detail.
The first thing to consider is: Grapes of Wrath is a work of fiction. It may be "based on truth" but it's by no means a biopic.
The second thing (based on the first) is that fiction writers often don't know jack sh*t about economics (try reading Vonnegut's Player Piano) and so a lot of the causes they attribute to various evils simply don't make sense in the real world, and the solutions they suggest would likely prove ineffective (or even detrimental).
Savannah Liston: Are we supposed to feel bad for all these poor sharecroppers because of the evil bankers and the evil new machines?
Savannah Liston:Again, it appears like these are evil business people taking advantage of desperate people...and so we need the government to solve all our problems.
Sure they are taking advantage of them. But goverment caused the crisis, enabls the abuse, and protects the evil. How are we to expect government to fix it ?when they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (or something quite similar).
"The issue is always the same, the government or the market. There is no third solution."
Yes, I knew it was a Steinbeck novel. And I know that it is a work of fiction, but often fiction affects the way people look at the world. Although Steinbeck probably didn't know the first thing about the economy, 1) the book & movie show how he understood it, and 2) the book & movie probably influence the audience to misunderstanding economics.
I do feel bad for the sharecroppers, but I don't think the "evil big guys" were that evil. They wanted to make money, they wanted to have more profit, just like everybody else. Should they be forced to keep the sharecroppers while everybody is turning to machinery? But I do think that the sharecroppers should have gotten money, or some reimbursement for leaving, instead of just being thrown out.
"Sure they are taking advantage of them. But goverment caused the crisis, enabls the abuse, and protects the evil. How are we to expect government to fix it ?when they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (or something quite similar)."
Exactly, I agree totally. Except that's not the answer Steinbeck gives, and I think his view is a popular one. So I am just asking for thoughts on the movie and book, knowing full well they are works of fiction, but are also expressions of economic misconceptions, and it would be helpful to understand these misconceptions and know how to respond to them.
I think the movie is not a statement on economics, but a simple testament to just how much people can endure to make a living, even pitted against the world.
The Oklahoma family in this movie packs up its belongings, crowds into a single rusty old car, goes through a long stressful journey that kills both grandparents, barely keeps enough gas or money to go the way, finds no work at their destination, finds mobs blocking their way elsewhere, finds two and a half cents of work, leaves the place, and just manages to find a few merciful people who take them in. At long last, they decide to leave the Dept of Agriculture's housing camp, and goes to find work at the grape farms.
It's only political enough to show that the author feels there is a need for government to take care of people, and yet, the movie's honest message seems to be just that simple ordinary people have the power to make do and survive on their own, with an initiative that just can not be taken away by big banks, big farmers, big law enforcement and even the big generous government.
My own views don't support statist solutions to anything; but the fact that the book's author did only seems incidental to the actual point of the movie.
IMHO, a true sign of a classic, which Grapes of Wrath certainly is, tells a story of human struggle against adversity. The storyline is as applicable then as it today since it deals with man's interaction with both corporate interests and technological advancements. While the banks were certainly within there right in the book/movie,I think the disconnect is that as humans, we are capable of feeling and expressing empathy and compassion towards our fellow man. I suppose a certain part of us expects that since corporations are made up of men and women who are capable of making decisions that display empathy. However, a corporation exists to maximize shareholder value and there is the disconnect. Furthering the disconnect is the fact that the largest shareholders of companies are other companies.
As for technological advancements, it a wonderful thing with one major downside. The downside being is that it disproportionately effects the portion of citizens that have the least ability to adapt (mobility, re-training, etc.).
Unfortunately, this story seems to be one that will replay itself again and again. With the continued march towards fascism/corporatism in our government it will ultimately be up to man to find some way to organize to effect change for the common good of man.
Funny anecdote: The Grapes of Wrath was used as a propaganda film in the Soviet Union to denounce the evils of capitalism. However the people who were shown the movie noticed that Americans who had nothing left still had cars, and were better off than they were.
That experiment was cut short.
The fallacies of intellectual communism, a compilation - On the nature of power
Farmer who is having his farm taken by the bank: "...But the bank is only made of men."
Bulldozer operator: "No, you're wrong there---quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it....Maybe the property's doing it." Grapes of Wrath, p. 43
As wonderful as this novel is, there are some very poignant depictions of capitalism as an evil, soulless beast. Only the government intervenes to save the starving and displaced Okies from the monstrous banks and companies, and even saves the land itself by preventing the unsustainable farming practices turning it into a wasteland. So what is the other side of the history of the dust bowl not assigned in 11th grade English?
One of those movies that is better than the book: the book has chaptrs dedicated to flat out moralizing (still a great book though)
here is the context the book was written:
"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann
"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence" - GLS Shackle