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The Grapes of Wrath

In John Ford’s film The Grapes of Wrath, the audience travels along with an Oklahoma family that has set out to find wealth and privileges in California during the Great Depression. The film was taken from John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. The filmakers intentions in putting this novel to screen was to show how the impact of the Great Depression effected the families of that time.

The film was taped in a journalistic, documentary-style black and white texture which helped create a strong feeling of poverty and realism to the audience. The filmakers did a good job at recreating scenery to make the plot as real as possible. The use of actual dialect of the Okies, was helpful to make the dialogue as realistic as possible. Throughout the movie the family’s clothing, possessions and even the car added to the effect that Steinbeck had created when he wrote his novel long ago.

As the movie progresses, there is actually two stories, one of the individual journey of the Joad family, and one for telling the general plight of the migrants. The director shows the individual family to show that the migrants are really people and to bring their plight home to the audience. The general story is told to show how it is affecting large numbers of people.

Throughout the movie, we watch the Joads progress from a concern only for themselves and their own personal welfare to a concern for all the people in the world. This shift from individual thinking to wide spread thinking is most directly seen in the actions of Tom Joad. When we first see him at the beginning of the film he is mainly concerned for his own welfare. He wants to make up for all the things he missed when in prison. Later on in the film he is more concerned with the welfare of the family. When we last see him he has shifted to trying to do what is best for all the migrant people by trying to organize them into striking. He tells his mother bye and he leaves to help the others.

That shift in thinking is also accompanied with the replacement of the individual family by the world family. The thing that started the breakup of the individual family was the loss of their land. The family had lived there for many generations and had strong ties to the land. Getting thrown off the land was sort of like losing their family history.

Grampa Joad died because he couldn’t take leaving his home. He is the first family member to leave the family.

Previous to this the Joads had always paid their own way and never asked for charity

When they get to the government camp, there is a brief respite from the breakup of the family. They are finally getting treated like humans again. This shows the audience that there actually is some good in the world. To this point in the movie the family hasn’t had any good fortune to look up to.

The characters that were chosen to play the parts were great portraying their character roles. Peter Fonda who played Tom Joad did a great job is showing the depth of his character’s harshness and sincerity. Tom Joad can be seen as the main protagonist. He is a strong, responsible person who doesn’t like being pushed around. At the beginning of the book he had just got out of the state penitentiary and is on probation. That limits his actions when he gets to California because he broke parole and can’t get arrested. He and the family have to flea after he gets involved in some trouble at a camp. They are afraid that Tom will be taken away. He undergoes a change throughout the film. At the beginning he is only worried about himself and wants to make up for the years he spent in prison. As the film progresses, though, his viewpoint expands to first having concern for the family, and later for the whole migrant society. If Casy were a Christ figure then Tom would have to be his disciple. He lives on after Casy to carry on and implement his philosophy.

Ma Joad is the backbone of the Joad family. When things were really bad the family turned to her and not to Pa. The family gauged their own emotions by looking at her reaction. She knew that if she faltered then the whole family would collapse. She is always concerned for the welfare of her own family, but still tries to help others as much as possible as shown by her when she gave food to the children in the camp when she barely had enough to feed the family anyway. She fights throughout the movie to keep the family together, and without her the family would have fallen apart quickly. In spite of this she still sees that the family is breaking apart. She fights this as much as possible, but isn’t completely successful.

I was able to have the opportunity to read John Steinbeck’s novel before watching the movie and it painted a great picture by bringing his words to life. Overall I felt this was a good educational movie, not one you would probably take a date on a Friday night but one that everyone needs to see. This film is helpful in showing younger generations the fight that their ancestors had to overcome to make it in those days. It gives the audience a great perspective of the times. I came away from the film with a thankfulness for all the things I have.


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