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Throughout history, many devastating economic, social, and environmental changes have occurred causing people to rise and overcome immense odds. In the 1930s, The Great Depression and the Dustbowl Disaster, a drought with horrific dust storms turning once-fertile agricultural lands of mid-America into virtual wastelands, forced thousands of destitute farmers to pack their families and belongings into their cars in search of agricultural work in central California. Years of degradation stemming from the end of slavery beginning at the conclusion of the Civil War destructed the old southern aristocratic families. These different external influences impact on the characters is seen in John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, and William Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury. Steinbeck illustrates and advocates drastic external changes in the economy and life style of the downtrodden migrants, as he follows the Joad family from Oklahoma to California. Faulkner depicts the decline of the aristocratic south through the eyes of the Compson children.

The external changes, The Great Depression and the Dustbowl, affected the Joads economically and emotionally. By economic standards the Joads were poor before the Dust Bowl. However, they believed they had economic value and importance by working their own 40 acres of land. “Grampa took up the land, and he had to kill the Indians and drive them away. And Pa was born here… Then a bad year came and he had to borrow a little money. An’ we was born here. And Pa had to borrow money. The bank owned the land then, but we stayed and we got a little bit of what we raised”(Steinbeck 45). Losing the farm, being forced to leave their home in a search of work, meant the loss of their social values. To the Joads, value and life importance rest in working the land and this ideology of the past made their emotional adjustment to being a wondering, an “Okie,” even more difficult. “The moving, questing people were migrants now. Those families which had lived on a little piece of land, who had lived and died on 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.” (Steinbeck 107) Searching for the feeling of importance and belonging in the ethics they were raised to believe in, the Joads were unable to derive importance from their present life importance.

Some emotional evolution of the family is shown best by the character Ma. Ma experienced the greatest change from thinking only of keeping her immediate family together, accepting that a broken-family will not be able to accomplish anything, to believing in a social extended family. “In the evening a strange thing happened: twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all the loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream.” (Steinbeck 235) The Joad family through their journey experienced the benefit of people uniting to accomplish goals. Ma said it best when she said, “Use’ta be fambly was fust. It ain’t so now. It’s anybody. Worse off we get the more we got to do.” (Steinbeck 305) Ma, expressing volunteerism, presents the transition from thinking of ones self to being concerned for humanity.

One of the main realities of human existence is the constant, unceasing passage of time. The unstoppable eternal force of time exemplifies the affects of the Civil War on the aristocracy of the south. Though the novel is mostly about the internal conflicts within the family, the external events of the time period’s influence can be seen through the character Quentin. Quentin’s obsession with the past, which results in his obsession with the passage of time, is a central theme of not only the Quentin section but of the entire book. This living in the past ideology is the key to understanding what Faulkner is trying to say about the decay of Southern culture and traditions. “The watch ticked on. I turned the face up, the blank dial with little wheels clicking and clicking behind it.” (Faulkner 80) Quentin cannot stop time. Just as the decay of the southern culture cannot be stopped, and though he does not necessarily correlate the decline of southern aristocracy as an affect of the Civil War, he does blame it on the evolution of time. He is totally consumed with the past, and at times can think of nothing else. This inability to move on with his life leads to a fixation with protecting his sister, Caddy. However distorted his fixation may be, it stems from the old Southern chivalry views. Slowly destroying his mentality by his inability to let go of the past, he becomes determined to stop time itself, an effort that will eventually force him to take his own life.

The Quentin section best illustrates the social decay of the rich southern families as he literally destroys himself. The cause of this decay is clearly slavery, but the implications of this decay are much farther reaching than merely the Southern aristocracy. Many people believe that slavery instantaneously ended with the Civil War but this is not correct. The continuing remnants of slavery are observed in the Compson’s primitive black servants. Just as Quentin idealized the past as with a picture of the old South as a wonderful and glorious place, they romanticize about it and even wish to stop time in order to return to the past just as much as Quentin. Sadly, like Quentin, their views of the past and time are terribly distorted with the inability to remember the horrors of the past that were characterized by Southern slavery, a cancer constantly decaying the moral and ethical base of the South,

Many events during the time period a person lives uncontrollably effect a person’s life. This simple fact is portrayed in the novels through their influences on each family. The members of the family either effectively evolve from the external changes or remain stuck in the past. As slavery declines the Compson family destructs by their reliance upon living in the past. However, as the economy and the dust storms worsen the Joad family changes their social views from “I” to “We,” but not their economic life views by leaving their work at home only to try and find worth in working in California.

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