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Depicting a world where the struggle to survive is elemental, two incisive narratives emerged to describe what life was like during the Dust Bowl. Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time comprises a non-fiction description of life following actual figures and stories of people who had to live through one of the toughest times in history. John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath offers a fictional depiction of what people would have experienced, created a story of a family that had to transform their lives to adapt to what the Dust Bowl did to their lives in their struggle to find jobs and money. Both of these works paint a realistic picture of what life was like in the Dust Bowl, in that they both comparatively included a unique plot which followed multiple families in The Worst Hard Time and one family in The Grapes of Wrath, used figurative language to emphasize certain points that were consistent in life during the Dust Bowl, and created a clear tone that connected with the reader on a personal and emotional level.
These texts both employ a unique structure within each of their stories that provided multiple perspectives on life during the Dust Bowl. In The Worst Hard Time, there were multiple instances when the story would jump between different families that had actually lived through the Dust Bowl. Egan stated in an interview that the The Worst Hard Time was the kind of story in which “[There was] no social security, no accurate forecast…They ate things like tumbleweeds – salted and canned – or roadkill, cooked over an open fire” (Houghton Miffin Company 3). Egan is describing their scenario in a very drastic yet accurate way, giving a fictional representation of -what the Dust Bowl was like. In The Grapes of Wrath, there was a clear distinction of how there was a fictional aspect for a majority of the story, following the one family of Tom Joad and their struggles during the Dust Bowl, along with inner chapters within the story that included real information and background of the actual times of the Dust Bowl, of which Steinbeck commented on in an interview that, “You say the inner chapters were counterpoint and so they were – that they were pace changers and they were that too but the basic purpose was to hit the reader below the belt…Open him up [to] things on an intellectual level which he would not or could not receive unless he were opened up” (New York Times 2). Steinbeck includes a story of a family living through a realistic scenario during the Dust Bowl, along with these inner chapters which provided the reader with more understanding of these times.
In these two texts, Egan and Steinbeck included many instances of innovative figurative language that emphasized certain points to the reader and gave new perspectives on certain concepts. At one point in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck writes “The tractors came over the roads and into the fields, great crawlers moving like insects” (35). Within this quote, Steinbeck is using a simile to describe the tractors that had caused people to leave their homes during the dust bowl, by comparing the way they walked with insects. He also uses metaphor to compare important concepts to the story, for example, “He was a part of the monster, a robot in the seat” (Steinbeck 35). In this quote, the tractor driver is being compared to a robot, which is a part of this monster, giving the reader a an understanding of how these drivers had to do things that made them seem like monsters, but it was how they got paid during these difficult times. There were also many examples of figurative language in The Worst Hard Time, as Egan wrote “[Ruth’s Baby] cried, coughed, and cried” (196). In this quote, Egan is using anaphora and creates an emotional ethos appeal with it to convey to the reader the situation of Ruth’s baby being born during these dust storms that caused it to be very sick. Along with that, Egan wrote, “The Osteen Dugout broiled in the heat…the temperature rose to 105 degrees, the highest the mercury land had ever been in that early year” (236). In this quote, Egan is using metaphor to compare the land to the planet Mercury, which is known for its intense heat, to emphasize the traumatic conditions during the Dust Bowl.
Within both of these accounts, there is a clear and concise tone that is conveyed to the reader that creates a strong emotional appeal to the situation of these people living through these grueling and punishing times. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck creates a tone of Hopeful in that throughout the story the main goal of the Joad family was to move to California and all get great jobs picking fruit and living in their own house, away from the struggles of the Dust Bowl. For example, Ma says, “Tom, I hope things is all right in California…I seen the han’bills fellas pass out, an’ high wages and all; an’ I seen how they want folks to come out an’ pick grapes and oranges an’ peaches…That’d be nice work” (Steinbeck 90). This quote is one of the many consistent examples of the hope that is portrayed from Ma regarding their future in California. For his part, Egan creates a thoroughly morose tone in that, across the entire story, there were consistent struggles from every perspective followed, as the families of this story gave their own non-fictional depictions of daily life during these taxing times. For example, “The reporter asked her why she didn’t leave. “I’d like to,” the woman said. “But I can’t.” She said the land was all she had; she thought she would die in a city, not knowing anyone and unsure how to feed herself” (Egan 237). In this quote, it is clear how this sad, morose tone is presented in that people were unsure of their futures, having to deal with these deadly storms and not being able to leave due to poverty during these Great Depression times also.
In both of these accounts, Egan and Steinbeck both compiled thorough stories that depicted the dust bowl with unique plots, figurative language, and tone. Their stories had evinced a fair share of similarities in writing style and plot design, and differentiated in tone and perspective. The Grapes of Wrath offered a fictional representation of the Dust Bowl with the life of one family written out in their hopes for survival. The Worst Hard Time gave a non-fictional true story of multiple different families allowing us to see what life was really like during the Dust Bowl, looking through the eyes of those who actually lived through it. Steinbeck and Egan had multiple similar characteristics with use of figurative language and rhetorical devices with consistent metaphors and similes that provided an emphasis on the comparisons that were made to give the reader a more concise understanding. With its tone, The Grapes of Wrath established a consistent hopeful aura to see an optimistic future, and The Worst Hard Time presented a morose tone established clearly pessimistic feelings.
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