Monday, May 12, 2014

Grapes of Wrath Excerpt 3 - Migrant Workers

THE MOVING, QUESTING people were migrants now. Those families who had lived on a little piece of land, who had lived and died on forty acres, had eaten or starved on the produce of forty acres, had now the whole West to rove in. And they scampered about, looking for work; and the highways were streams of people, and the ditch banks were lines of people. Behind them more were coming. The great highways streamed with moving people. There in the Middle—and Southwest had lived a simple agrarian folk who had not changed with industry, who had not farmed with machines or known the power and danger of machines in private hands. They had not grown up in the paradoxes of industry. Their senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of the industrial life.
And then suddenly the machines pushed them out and they swarmed on the highways. The movement changed them; the highways, the camps along the road, the fear of hunger and the hunger itself, changed them. The children without dinner changed them, the endless moving changed them. They were migrants. And the hostility changed them, welded them, united them—hostility that made the little towns group and arm as though to repel an invader, squads with pick handles, clerks and storekeepers with shotguns, guarding the world against their own people.
In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said, These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They're degenerate, sexual maniacs. Those goddamned Okies are thieves. They'll steal anything. They've got no sense of property rights.
And the latter was true, for how can a man without property know the ache of ownership? And the defending people said, They bring disease, they're filthy. We can't have them in the schools. They're strangers. How'd you like to have your sister go out with one of 'em?
The local people whipped themselves into a mold of cruelty. Then they formed units, squads, and armed them—armed them with clubs, with gas, with guns. We own the country. We can't let these Okies get out of hand. And the men who were armed did not own the land, but they thought they did. And the clerks who drilled at night owned nothing, and the little storekeepers possessed only a drawerful of debts. But even a debt is something, even a job is something. The clerk thought, I get fifteen dollars a week. S'pose a goddamn Okie would work for twelve? And the little storekeeper thought, How could I compete with a debtless man?
And the migrants streamed in on the highways and their hunger was in their eyes, and their need was in their eyes. They had no argument, no system, nothing but their numbers and their needs. When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it—fought with a low wage. If that fella'll work for thirty cents, I'll work for twenty-five.
If he'll take twenty-five, I'll do it for twenty.
No, me, I'm hungry. I'll work for fifteen. I'll work for food. The kids. You ought to see them. Little boils, like, comin' out, an' they can't run aroun'. Give 'em some windfall fruit, an' they bloated up. Me, I'll work for a little piece of meat.
And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up. The great owners were glad and they sent out more handbills to bring more people in. And wages went down and prices stayed up. And pretty soon now we'll have serfs again.
And now the great owners and the companies invented a new method. A great owner bought a cannery. And when the peaches and the pears were ripe he cut the price of fruit below the cost of raising it. And as cannery owner he paid himself a low price for the fruit and kept the price of canned goods up and took his profit. And the little farmers who owned no canneries lost their farms, and they were taken by the great owners, the banks, and the companies who also owned the canneries. As time went on, there were fewer farms. The little farmers moved into town for a while and exhausted their credit, exhausted their friends, their relatives. And then they too went on the highways. And the roads were crowded with men ravenous for work, murderous for work.
And the companies, the banks worked at their own doom and they did not know it. The fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads. The granaries were full and the children of the poor grew up rachitic, and the pustules of pellagra swelled on their sides. The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. And money that might have gone to wages went for gas, for guns, for agents and spies, for blacklists, for drilling. On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment.

Grapes of Wrath Excerpt 2 - California

ONCE CALIFORNIA BELONGED to Mexico and its land to Mexicans; and a horde of tattered feverish Americans poured in. And such was their hunger for land that they took the land—stole Sutter's land, Guerrero's land, took the grants and broke them up and growled and quarreled over them, those frantic hungry men; and they guarded with guns the land they had stolen. They put up houses and barns, they turned the earth and planted crops. And these things were possession, and possession was ownership.
The Mexicans were weak and fled. They could not resist, because they wanted nothing in the world as frantically as the Americans wanted land.
Then, with time, the squatters were no longer squatters, but owners; and their children grew up and had children on the land. And the hunger was gone from them, the feral hunger, the gnawing, tearing hunger for land, for water and earth and the good sky over it, for the green thrusting grass, for the swelling roots. They had these things so completely that they did not know about them any more. They had no more the stomach-tearing lust for a rich acre and a shining blade to plow it, for seed and a windmill beating its wings in the air. They arose in the dark no more to hear the sleepy birds' first chittering, and the morning wind around the house while they waited for the first light to go out to the dear acres. These things were lost, and crops were reckoned in dollars, and land was valued by principal plus interest, and crops were bought and sold before they were planted. Then crop failure, drought, and flood were no longer little deaths within life, but simple losses of money. And all their love was thinned with money, and all their fierceness dribbled away in interest until they were no longer farmers at all, but little shopkeepers of crops, little manufacturers who must sell before they can make. Then those farmers who were not good shopkeepers lost their land to good shopkeepers. No matter how clever, how loving a man might be with earth and growing things, he could not survive if he were not also a good shopkeeper. And as time went on, the business men had the farms, and the farms grew larger, but there were fewer of them.
Now farming became industry, and the owners followed Rome, although they did not know it. They imported slaves, although they did not call them slaves: Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos. They live on rice and beans, the business men said. They don't need much. They wouldn't know what to do with good wages. Why, look how they live. Why, look what they eat. And if they get funny—deport them.
And all the time the farms grew larger and the owners fewer. And there were pitifully few farmers on the land any more. And the imported serfs were beaten and frightened and starved until some went home again, and some grew fierce and were killed or driven from the country. And the farms grew larger and the owners fewer.
And the crops changed. Fruit trees took the place of grain fields, and vegetables to feed the world spread out on the bottoms: lettuce, cauliflower, artichokes, potatoes—stoop crops. A man may stand to use a scythe, a plow, pitchfork; but he must crawl like a bug between the rows of lettuce, he must bend his back and pull his long bag between the cotton rows, he must go on his knees like a penitent across a cauliflower patch.
And it came about that owners no longer worked on their farms. They farmed on paper; and they forgot the land, the smell, the feel of it, and remembered only that they owned it, remembered only what they gained and lost by it. And some of the farms grew so large that one man could not even conceive of them any more, so large that it took batteries of bookkeepers to keep track of interest and gain and loss; chemists to test the soil, to replenish; straw bosses to see that the stooping men were moving along the rows as swiftly as the material of their bodies could stand. Then such a farmer really became a storekeeper, and kept a store. He paid the men, and sold them food, and took the money back. And after a while he did not pay the men at all, and saved bookkeeping. These farms gave food on credit. A man might work and feed himself and when the work was done, might find that he owed money to the company. And the owners not only did not work the farms any more, many of them had never seen the farms they owned.
And then the dispossessed were drawn west—from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Carloads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless—restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do—to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut—anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land.
We ain't foreign. Seven generations back Americans, and beyond that Irish, Scotch, English, German. One of our folks in the Revolution, an' they was lots of our folks in the Civil War—both sides. Americans.
They were hungry, and they were fierce. And they had hoped to find a home, and they found only hatred. Okies—the owners hated them because the owners knew they were soft and the Okies strong, that they were fed and the Okies hungry; and perhaps the owners had heard from their grandfathers how easy it is to steal land from a soft man if you are fierce and hungry and armed. The owners hated them. And in the towns, the storekeepers hated them because they had no money to spend. There is no shorter path to a storekeeper's contempt, and all his admirations are exactly opposite. The town men, little bankers, hated Okies because there was nothing to gain from them. They had nothing. And the laboring people hated Okies because a hungry man must work, and if he must work, if he has to work, the wage payer automatically gives him less for his work; and then no one can get more.

Grapes of Wrath Excerpt 1 - Okies

Pa asked politely, "Goin' west?"
"Nope. We come from there. Goin' back home. We can't make no livin' out there."
"Where's home?" Tom asked.
"Panhandle, come from near Pampa."
Pa asked, "Can you make a livin' there?"
"Nope. But at leas' we can starve to death with folks we know. Won't have a bunch a fellas that hates us to starve with."
Pa said, "Ya know, you're the second fella talked like that. What makes 'em hate you?"
"Dunno," said the man. He cupped his hands full of water and rubbed his face, snorting and bubbling. Dusty water ran out of his hair and streaked his neck.
"I like to hear some more 'bout this," said Pa.
"Me too," Tom added. "Why these folks out west hate ya?"
The man looked sharply at Tom. "You jus' goin' wes'?"
"Jus' on our way."
"You ain't never been in California?"
"No, we ain't."
"Well, don' take my word. Go see for yourself."
"Yeah," Tom said, "but a fella kind a likes to know what he's gettin' into."
"Well, if you truly wanta know, I'm a fella that's asked questions an' give her some thought. She's a nice country. But she was stole a long time ago. You git acrost the desert an' come into the country aroun' Bakersfield. An' you never seen such purty country—all orchards, an' grapes, purtiest country you ever seen. An' you'll pass lan' flat an' fine with water thirty feet down, and that lan's layin' fallow. But you can't have none of that lan'. That's a Lan' and Cattle Company. An' if they don't want ta work her, she ain't gonna git worked. You go in there an' plant you a little corn, an' you'll go to jail!"
"Good lan', you say? An' they ain't workin' her?"
"Yes, sir. Good lan' an' they ain't! Well, sir, that'll get you a little mad, but you ain't seen nothin'. People gonna have a look in their eye. They gonna look at you an' their face says, 'I don't like you, you son-of-a-bitch.' Gonna be deputy sheriffs, an' they'll push you aroun'. You camp on the roadside, an' they'll move you on. You gonna see in people's face how they hate you. An'—I'll tell you somepin. They hate you 'cause they're scairt. They know a hungry fella gonna get food even if he got to take it. They know that fallow lan's a sin an' somebody' gonna take it. What the hell! You never been called 'Okie' yet."
Tom said, "Okie? What's that?"
"Well, Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you're scum. Don't mean nothing itself, it's the way they say it. But I can't tell you nothin'. You got to go there. I hear there's three hunderd thousan' of our people there—an' livin' like hogs, 'cause ever'thing in California is owned. They ain't nothin' left. An' them people that owns it is gonna hang on to it if they got ta kill ever'body in the worl' to do it. An' they're scairt, an' that makes 'em mad. You got to see it. You got to hear it. Purtiest goddamn country you ever seen, but they ain't nice to you, them folks. They're so scairt an' worried they ain't even nice to each other."
Tom looked down into the water, and he dug his heels into the sand. "S'pose a fella got work an' saved, couldn' he get a little lan'?"
The older man laughed and he looked at his boy, and his silent boy grinned almost in triumph. And the man said, "You ain't gonna get no steady work. Gonna scrabble for your dinner ever' day. An' you gonna do her with people lookin' mean at you. Pick cotton, an' you gonna be sure the scales ain't honest. Some of 'em is, an' some of 'em ain't. But you gonna think all the scales is crooked, an' you don't know which ones. Ain't nothin' you can do about her anyways."
Pa asked slowly, "Ain't—ain't it nice out there at all?"
"Sure, nice to look at, but you can't have none of it. They's a grove of yella oranges—an' a guy with a gun that got the right to kill you if you touch one. They's a fella, newspaper fella near the coast, got a million acres—"
Casy looked up quickly, "Million acres? What in the worl' can he do with a million acres?"
"I dunno. He jus' got it. Runs a few cattle. Got guards ever'place to keep folks out. Rides aroun' in a bullet-proof car. I seen pitchers of him. Fat, sof' fella with little mean eyes an' a mouth like a ass-hole. Scairt he's gonna die. Got a million acres an' scairt of dyin'."
Casy demanded, "What in hell can he do with a million acres? What's he want a million acres for?"
The man took his whitening, puckering hands out of the water and spread them, and he tightened his lower lip and bent his head down to one shoulder. "I dunno," he said. "Guess he's crazy. Mus' be crazy. Seen a pitcher of him. He looks crazy. Crazy an' mean."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath Notes

v     Written in 1939, this novel won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and was a major factor in Steinbeck winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962.

v     This book tells the story of the Joads, a family of tenant farmers living in Oklahoma (Okies) during the Great Depression (1929-1939).

US GDP (gross domestic product) during the Great Depression

US Unemployment during the Great Depression

v     A tenant farmer doesn’t own his land, but pays rent, just like a family living in a flat. The tenants hope to sell enough crops (plodiny) to pay off their rent, but this was impossible during the Great Depression because drought (sucho) turned the land into a giant Dust Bowl (oblasť sužovaná prachovými búrkami, hlavne okolie Oklahomy, kde v 30. rokoch prachové búrky zničili mnoho fariem a donútili ľudí, aby opustili svoju pôdu).

v     So, The banks forced all these tenants off the land, replacing workers with tractors, and they moved to California, looking for work on other farms. The Joads became migrant workers – going from farm to farm begging for work.

Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange, 1936

v     The journey from Oklahoma to California was long and dangerous, and by the time they got there, they were so desperate they’d work for food. The farm owners in California gave such low wages that some families were in debt by the end of the day, just by getting food.

v     Growing angry at the situation, the workers tried to organize unions and strike. But the farm owners hired “strike breakers”, also called scabs. These were people willing to work for lower prices.

v     They also hired vigilantes, people with guns and other weapons to attack unionists, and burn down their tents at night.

v     The title of this book is a critique of these landowners. They wanted to grow fruit and vegetables, but what they really grew was the wrath (extreme anger) of their workers. The phrase “grapes of wrath” actually comes from a song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which was a patriotic song written during the Civil War in 1861.


The Joad Family:

v     Consists of Ma & Pa Joad, and their children: Noah (the eldest), Tom (the favourite), Rose of Sharon, called “Rosasharn” (18), Al (16), Ruthie (12), Winfield (10).

v     Other family members that come along include Grandma & Grandpa (who had to be taken in his sleep), Uncle John Joad, and Connie Rivers, Rosasharn’s husband who deserts her soon after they get to California.

v     Tom Joad also asks an older preacher, Jim Casy, to come with them.

v     During the long trip to California, both Grandpa and Grandma die, lying in tents with no doctor. Grandpa had to be buried by the roadside. Grandma was taken to a mortuary in California.

v     In Arizona, Noah became the first of the family to leave, saying he wanted to stay and fish by the Colorado river. The family considered him to be strange and no one argued with him.

v     During the trip, the Joads befriend an older couple called Ivy & Sairy Wilson, from Kansas. Ivy gets too sick to travel, and the Joads leave them somewhere in Arizona or Nevada. She probably died.

v     Connie disappeared soon after arriving in California. Rosasharn was hurt because she was hoping he’d go to school and soon own a store to support her (she was several months pregnant).

v     In California the Joads went to work on a series of different farms. They lived in Hoovervilles, a collection of tents and shacks that were set up outside every town in California. These little slums were named after President Hoover, who was very unpopular. Every once in awhile police would go to these Hoovervilles and harass () people.

v     In one of these Hoovervilles, the Joads meet a union organizer named Floyd Knowles. He, Tom, and Casy get in a fight with a guard from a farm, and Casy goes to jail.

v     Later, Tom sees Casy in a strike, get beaten to death by police, and he kills the one who killed Casy. Afterwards, Tom runs away.

v     The story ends with a flood. The family run to higher ground, leaving their last worldly possessions, and hiding in a barn, where they discover a starving man and his son. Rosasharn’s baby was stillborn (narodený mŕtvy), so she nurses the man to keep him from dying.

It's important to remember that migrant farm workers still exist today, both in America and Europe. Many migrants in the US are illegal aliens, meaning they don't have a legal work visa. Comedian Stephen Colbert testified before congress after spending one day as a migrant worker:


Monday, May 5, 2014

The Rape of the Lock (Ukradnutá Hudrlinka)

The Rape of the Lock, by Alexander Pope

v     This poem, written in 1712, is a mock epic, meaning an epic satire. The entire poem makes fun of a young man and woman who fought at a fancy party.

v     Don't worry, this poem has nothing to do with rape.

v     Here’s the situation. Two wealthy families wanted their children to fall in love and get married. The man was Lord Petre, and the woman was Arabella Fermor.

The real Arabella Fermor

    Unfortunately, the man was a bit of an idiot, and he decided to cut a piece (a lock) of Arabella’s hair – he wanted to keep it, as a trophy. It sounds strange today, but this used to be common, although you’re supposed to ask for it. Lord Petre snuck up behind her and took it. Arabella got upset and demanded the hair back. It was a big scandal, ruining the marriage plans. Alexander Pope was asked to write a poem to show the funny side of the situation, and to calm everyone down so they could make peace. He called it The Rape of the Lock as a way to exaggerate the situation.

v     It didn’t work. Arabella eventually married someone else – Francis Perkins. She never forgave Lord Petre, but she did forgive Pope.

v     The poem is written like an actual Greek epic, divided into five sections, called cantos.

v     The reason was to exaggerate the importance of the situation – a bit like Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing (Veľa kriku pre nič). The entire poem is much ado about nothing, and is very sarcastic (it’s like an 18th century Triumph, the insult comic dog:

v     In the poem, Pope changed the names of the couple. Arabella was called Belinda, and Lord Petre was called The Baron.

v     The Poem starts with Belinda getting dressed to go to a fancy party.

v     Meanwhile the young Baron is already so in love with Belinda that he’s made a little altar to her in his room. At this altar, he burns all the trophies he’s ever gotten from other girls – a love letter, a glove, and three garters (podväzok).

a garter

v     Belinda arrives at the party by boat on the River Thames. She meets the Baron and they play a game of cards. She wins.

v     The whole time, Belinda is protected by little spirits called sylphs, that act like guardian angels, keeping her hair nice, her ribbons in order, etc.

v     A false friend named Clarissa gives the Baron a pair of scissors to cut her hair. He tries to do so, but is unable – the little sylphs keep blowing on her hair back and forth.

v     Eventually, the sylphs give up because, and this was probably most insulting to Arabella, they all realized that she liked the Baron, so she should go ahead and accept him. When the Baron finally cut her hair, he also cut a sylph in two, but didn’t kill it because they’re made out of air (and invisible).

v     Belinda got very angry. Clarissa, her false friend, told her it’s not a big deal, and she shouldn't be so vain. Meanwhile, her true friend Thalestris convinced her to go fight the Baron. So, Belinda grabbed him, held a needle to his throat and demanded her hair back.

v     But, by this time the Baron had lost it, and it had somehow risen up to the sky where it became a bright and shining star, to light the night sky forever as proof of her eternal beauty – can you see the sarcasm? And you can also understand why this poem didn’t work, although it did make many people laugh who read it.

Alexander Pope Biography

Alexander Pope (1688-1744),
by Jonathan Richardson

Young Alexander had a difficult life for two reasons. First of all, he was a sickly child, suffering from a form of tuberculosis that deformed his body, making him a hunchback (hrbatý človek). Secondly, he was born Catholic in London, at a time when Catholics were very unpopular. New laws forbade Catholics from attending school, and then, in 1700, from even living within ten miles of London. His aunt taught him to read, and he then educated himself, reading classical works by Homer & Virgil, along with Chaucer and Shakespeare. He became famous at twenty-one for his poems The Pastorals. He became friends with famous writers like Jonathan Swift, creating the Scriblerus Club. He translated Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey into English. Pope is most famous for writing the poem, The Rape of the Lock. He also wrote Duncaid, a poem mocking people in England that he didn’t like. It was called his biggest mistake in life, even though it was great writing, because it made so many people angry. He had to walk around with two loaded pistols and a great dane, named Bounce.
Alexander Pope, by Louis Francois Roubiliac