Thursday, October 20, 2011
Here are several snips from two "notes" sites (one's called monkey notes, so take these with a grain of salt) on Agrarianism in GoW:
Chapter five also examines the issue of what constitutes ownership of land. The absentee landlords and the tenants hold conflicting views about it. For the landlords land is simply a means of earning sizable profits. Land is nothing more to them than a financial investment. For the tenants, on the other hand, land is a vital part of their very existence, and everything in their life is tied to it, including birth, employment, and death. The tenants follow the ideas of Jeffersonian agrarianism. Thomas Jefferson believed that all people should have the opportunity to own landed property. The Jeffersonians argued that even if a person did not own land legally, the person had a natural right to claim ownership if he or she lived on it and cultivated it. This idealism is reflected in the tenants' reply: "We measured it and broke it up. . . that's what makes it ours--being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it."
Steinbeck asks the meaning of ownership in the novel. The owners and the tenants reveal two conflicting views about the land. The tenants adopt the ideas of Jeffersonian agrarianism, which involves the belief that landed property held in freehold must be available to everyone. The Jeffersonians believed that a man could claim ownership of the land he occupied and cultivated by virtue of a natural right. The absentee landlords do not occupy the land and only have legal ownership of the land. For the tenants, land is a vital part of their existence. For the landlords, it is only an investment, which yields profits. In the later section of the novel, Steinbeck contrasts the Hoovervilles established on the outskirts of each town with the vast tracts of land that lie unused in the West. The owners of these estates are fearful that the migrants may encroach on their property. The theme of people's relationship to land is a crucial one. Tied to the theme of land ownership, Steinbeck depicts that the individual is increasingly at the mercy of the vast anonymous forces of capitalism and a market economy, which cannot be identified because they are faceless, mindless, and heartless. They are the faceless tractor drivers who do not "feel" the land. They are the banks that direct businesses because they possess the money. They are the large landowners who sometimes never see their farms.