Ford attempted to establish a sense of historical context by inserting two paragraphs of prose on the screen immediately following the opening credits:
' In the central part of the United States of America lies a limited area called
'the Dust Bowl', because of its lack
of rains. Here drought and poverty combined to deprive many farmers from their land.
In its description of a '' limited area called 'the Dust Bowl', 'the prose serves
to limit the scope of the tragedy about to be witnessed to a specific, isolated part of
the nation. The simple past tense used in the final sentence of the first paragraph
underscores a feeling that this is all over by the time of the film, 1940. The second
paragraph prepares us not for Steinbeck's picture of failure on a national scale but for
the story of 'one's farmer's family' who are victims of changes ' beyond anyone's
control', and who will set out on a heart-rending journey ' in search of peace, security,
and another home.'
The movie only focuses on the Joads, a migrant family from the Dust Bowl region, while the novel's focus shifts from the Joads to the situation of all the migrants who went to California in the 1930s. In the interchapters of the novel the fate of many migratory workers is described. Moreover, Steinbeck provides the reader with a detailed picture of the historical background of the 1930s: he describes the dust storms, the expulsion of the farmers from their homes, the tractors who destroy their farms, Route 66, the major migrant road to California, the reception of the so called 'Okies' in California. In these interchapters Steinbeck also criticizes the way tenant farmers are treated and the way powerful, rich people exploit the poor migrants.
The novel's interchapters and the different focus of novel and movie
The film version excluded many small episodes from the novel,
among them episodes showing unfair business practices. The complaint about the unfair
practices of used-car salesmen; the argument with the camp owner about overcharging; the
depiction of the company-store credit racket, the dishonest scales on the fruit ranch; and
even the practice, an the part of an otherwise sympathetic luncheon proprietor, of taking
the jackpots from his slot machines - none of these was ever proposed for the shooting
The film's political implications were muted because the
film-makers feared criticism. In the scene where Farmer Thomas warns Tom and the Wallaces
about the impending raid on the Government Camp, the recurring question of 'red' agitation
comes up again. Tom, who has heard the argument before, bursts out, ' What is these reds
anyway?' Originally, according to the script, Wilkie Wallace was to have answered, rubbing
his own line from the novel, that according to a fruit grower he knew once, a red is
anyone who ' wants thirty cents an hour when I'm payin' twenty-five.' In the final print,
however, Farmer Thomas answers Tom's question simply but evasively , ' I ain't talkin'
about that one way 'r another', and goes on to warn the men about the raid.
Who is to blame for the ruined earth?
In the novel it is obvious that the 'Okies' are partly responsible
for the ruined earth because they have used up the land, they have 'cottoned out' the
earth. This is one of the reasons why they have to move west, following the archetypal
American path. Steinbeck made a clear statement in the novel that both the sharecroppers
and the American system of land exploitation are to blame for the ruined earth.
|In the novel Jim Casy, a former preacher, asks the Joads if he can join them on
their way to California. The Joad family talks about whether they should take him or not.
As it turns out, there are arguments for and against taking Casy with them. Pa Joad is
worried that there won't be enough room for somebody else because they are already 12
Ma is one of the family members who Casy to join them. While Tom hesitates after Casy asked if he may join them, Ma says, '' Why we'd be proud to have you.' But she also tells him that it is not for her to decide - there has to be a family council. During the family council, it turns out that Grampa also wants Casy to travel with them to California. He says, ' I kinda like this fella.' Pa Joad worries that there might not be enough room left for Casy, saying, ' But I'M wonderin' if we can all ride, an' the preacher too. An' kin we feed a extra mouth?' Again it is Ma Joad who defends Casy's wish for joining them, and her word counts. She says, answering Pa's worry if they can feed an extra mouth: ' It ain't kin we? It's will we? [...] I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin' food an' shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked.' Ma goes on saying, ' there ain't room now. There ain't room for more'n six, an' twelve is goin' sure. One more ain't gonna hurt.'
In the film, Casy does not need to ask if he may join them: the Joad's invite him to travel with them. It is actually Pa Joad, the one family member who had the most doubts about taking Casy along in the novel, who asks Casy to join his family in the film version.
The film, like the novel, is double edged. As a romance it suggests the optimism of quest and delivery, and as a film of American agrarianism it faces the reality of the loss of that dream. Though the novel's despair and determinism have been eliminated in the film, they have been replaced with nightmarish imagery of the wasteland.
Desertions of family members
In the novel actual desertions within the family take place before or during the Hooverville camp scene while in the film all defections occur or are discovered after this scene. Noah simply disappears from the film without any explanation, whereas in the novel Tom tells Ma why Noah decided to leave.
Reversal of Government (= Weedpatch) Camp and Peach Ranch episode
The celebrated reversal in the film of the novel's Government Camp
and Peach Ranch order is the screenwriter's effort to make the Joad's collectivism more
motivated and more progressive. By placing the Government Camp scene after their
experiences in the Hooverville camp and the Peach Ranch the Joads' willingness to engage
in collective action becomes understandable, and the audience can see the positive effects
of such action.
The different endings
Another difference between novel and film are the different
endings: while the novel ends with Rose of Sharon giving her breast to a starving stranger
in a barn, a scene that has very often been criticized, the movie ends with the Joads
leaving the security of the government camp, but in the tone of an upbeat all the way. The
movie finally ends with Ma's famous 'We're the people' speech. Thus the movie ends without
the destructive flood, without the symbolic stillbirth, and without the final gesture of
universal love. The audience leaves this movie moved and comforted, but not, as Steinbeck
must have wished, provoked.
Comparison of Ma Joad's ' We're the people' speech in the novel and in the film
Ma's speech in the novel
' Man , he lives in jerks - baby born an' a man dies, an' that's a jerk - gets a farm an' loses his farm, an' that's a jerk. Woman, it's all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on. Woman looks at it like that. We ain't gonna die out. People is goin' on - changin' a little, maybe, but goin' right on.'
The novel does not end with this speech. After Ma's speech Rosasharn's baby is stillborn and the Joads have to take shelter from the flood in a barn.
Ma's speech in the film
' For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn't have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. [...] Like we was lost and nobody cared. [...] Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good, an' they die out. But we keep a-comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out. They can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people.'
The movie ends with this speech as 'Red River Valley' strikes up
in the background.
|The Grapes of Wrath as a novel argues that in order to survive spiritually
and physically on the planet man must commit himself to man and environment, whereas the
film version focuses on the traditional figure of the isolated individual who will make