So What?

Dust Bowl Refugees

Dust Bowl Refugees

This movie is an important record of what people were going through in the 1930s. It does not have the overall breadth of understanding that history offers, but as a piece of its time it works very well. Some of the characterizations and social issues that were problematic in the book were hardly present in the movie, leaving the heart of both adaptations bare for the world to see. The movie does not address migrant work as its own occupation, and the book glosses over it, but this only makes it more of a primary source. The harsh conditions of migrant work only became a crisis when it was affecting white families, and in the 1930s that’s only what most people saw. Some accounts do address the fact that other ethnicities suffer a similar fate when expected to work on big farms, but the government assessments find the overall culture of migrant work unsolvable and therefore not the problem to address. In this regard, we should take away from the film the conditions of the migrant work and strive to apply it to a larger narrative that still works in America. Migrant work is still a massive industry, and it still has horrible wages, poor conditions, and uncertain living spaces. Now, it no longer affects white families and therefore has once again slipped under the radar. But it is still an American issue that should be addressed and fixed. Big agribusinesses should be better regulated, wages should be higher, and workers should be allowed to unionize. These ideas are prevalent in The Grapes of Wrath, but they seem to end right as soon as the credits roll. Its message should not end there, and in fact it should be used as a tool to teach about migrant work, since many schools use it as a lesson on environmentalism, 1930s Depression, and unionization anyway. Creating this understanding would uncover worlds of issues that common people wouldn’t come across otherwise.

Migrant Workers

Migrant Workers