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After watching the film, The Grapes of Wrath, I now have a more visual picture of life during the Dust Bowl. The film represented a dark era of American History, which is also known as the “Dirty Thirties”, and while the time frame started during 1930 and lasted the decade, the long term effects were felt even longer. The film both highlighted many aspects of the uproar experienced during this time, and also included varying political climates, lifestyles, and ideas. However, the film also under represented critical aspects of specific events. While the film may compliment the actual life events of the Dust Bowl migration, the fact that fiction is blended with facts cannot be ignored to the movie viewer.
The film is about the journey of how a sharecropper’s son is changed into a union coordinator. While the message of the film is powerfully shown, at the same time the message is conveyed with abundant sympathy with the addition of images of beauty. This created the continuing effect on the audience exiting the theater as a feeling of misfortune rather than rage.
The film was created with the intention of a strong message to be shared. The theoretical journey of the main character, Tom Joad is perceived by the two killings he was held responsible for. The first killing took place in a saloon before the initial film encounter begins. The audience is then aware of this precise info as Tom explains it to a former preacher; he comes across on his way home. Tom says, “We was drunk. He got a knife in me and I laid him out with a shovel. Knocked his head plum to squash.” After serving four years in prison, Tom was released on parole and returned to his family farm in Oklahoma. Upon his arrival, he finds his family is no longer there. Furthermore, he learns that his family was kicked off of their land and were joining the desperate movement to California. The audience encounters Tom’s second kill near the end of the film. Throughout his journey to California, he witnesses many police and criminals beat protesters. However, this time, Tom was the one attacked by deputies. In that occurrence, he took away the officers club and killed him. The audience soon becomes away of the lesson. At this point, Tom learned who his real enemies were and that he needs to be working with more deserving targets rather than the opposite.
The movie reveals a bigger socialist lesson when Tom tells Ma, “One guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starving.” Tom had no idea what was going to occur in the near future. However, the Okies eventually went to work in war industries and their children prospered more in California than they would have in Oklahoma. The unification of migrants also demonstrated a threat to the wealthier landowners. A large group of organized individuals begin to take shape and present a threat to once dominant individuals. Moreover, the film depicts the reality of how changes in the family begin to take place during this time. The female members of families who were once passive and obedient were beginning to find their strength and voice. This in turn enabled the women to become more powerful in the family unit. This expressed the nations rage about the Depression in poetic, Biblical terms, and the dialogue does a delicate dance around words like “agitators” and “Reds”-who are, we are intended to understand, what the fat cats call anyone who stands up for the little man. With Hitler rising in Europe, Communism would enjoy a brief respite from the American demonology.
The film does a great job of educating the audience by portraying accurate historical facts, extravagant details, various themes and emotions. The film overall has specific choice dialogue and exchanges a fascinating historical context of full range experiences. The film has historical accuracy while at the same time has excellent fictional background. While the film has fictional characters, much of the film demonstrates the result of the perfect storm where rising Armstrong 4 wheat prices led to higher demand for wheat. This in turn led to over production of lands being plowed without taking into consideration the risk of climate. When draught set in the land began to erode and massive wind storms caused catastrophic dust storms. This economic event was felt by both the rich and the poor and those in other occupations, but the film placed much more sympathetic emphasis on the farmer and their experiences during the migration.
While much of the dialogue was based on the feelings of the era, there were shortcomings and areas that were either embellished or omitted. For instance, the dust storms during the decade affected very little of the farming land of Oklahoma. Additionally, many of the migrants from Oklahoma during the depression were not actually farmers but rather Okies who were stricken by poverty and traveled to seek work in the promised land of the west. In fact, only about one third of the Oklahoma migrants settled in the fertile rich land of the San Joaquin Valley of California.
While learning about the Dust Bowl migration, we must understand that the film was based on historical events, but also included fictional characters. Given what was known about the Dust Bowl, this decade presents a perfect backdrop for a storyline. We also must remember that the Dust Bowl added to already devastating economic conditions which were being felt due to the Great Depression. Migration was already happening due to those who were searching for better living conditions and better pay.
All in all, I believe the movie should be watched alone so the actual events portrayed in the film cannot be confused with the reality of the Dust Bowl. Conversely, I still believe that children should be required to watch this film while in the school system. It gives the watcher a visual picture representation of those dark times. The film is a left-wing parable, but on the other hand, is directed by a right-wing American director. While the plight of the farmer is the focus on this film, the Dust Bowl affected much more than the farmer. The Grapes of Wrath does an emotional job of utilizing the failed dreams and vivid emotions of many who migrated, but falls short with facts and true events of the era it represents.
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