1. How have the geography and resources of the United States influenced American culture? How have Americans used and abused the land?
In the United States, the movement from an agrarian-based economy to an industrial one reflected a shift that had already occurred in much of Europe. Railroads, textiles, and the iron and steel industries all expanded in nineteenth-century America. The labor shortages and relatively good wages that resulted from this industrialization brought two major waves of immigrants from Europe. The first, arriving in the 1840s, included mostly Germans, English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish. The second, in the 1880s, consisted mainly of people from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. This second wave of immigrants was treated more poorly than their predecessors had been. By and large, their assimilation into mainstream American culture was more difficult, as illustrated in literature by the treatment of the Rudkus family in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. On the West Coast, Asian and Latino immigrants were arriving in great numbers and encountering racism as they sought work on the railroads and on large vegetable farms. Such writers as Carlos Bulosan, Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Tomas Rivera explore the stories of these immigrants. On both coasts, many immigrants found themselves working in industries that devalued their humanity by treating them as easily replaceable commodities.
In some ways, social institutions like trade unions seem to stand in opposition to an American culture that praises hard-working individualism. The first European concepts of America envisioned this land as a new Eden, a place without toil or labor. The early Puritans and, later, the colonists and the citizens of the new Republic reshaped this naïve vision and wrote of the need for the American individual to work hard to tame and civilize a rugged and often hostile land.
2. Why might Bulosan and his works have been “lost” for half a century? What forces worked against him, and what forces later advocated for him? Why did Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath receive social and political criticism when it was first published? How is Under the Feet of Jesus a feminist story? How does this affect its social message?
Bulosan’s works and life would inspire later generations of young Asian Americans rediscovering their heritage and history.
While The Grapes of Wrath is praised by most critics for the universality of its themes, it is sometimes faulted by others for excessive sentimentalism and melodrama. Initial reception of The Grapes of Wrath was distorted because the book caused a maelstrom of political controversy due to its castigation of agribusiness and the governmental system that contributed to the Dust Bowl predicament. The press and politicians attempted to discredit Steinbeck's book, accusing him of socialist sympathies. With its political implications now defused, critical study of The Grapes of Wrath has more recently focused on Steinbeck's religious and nature symbolism and the role of his female characters, which earlier critics had considered stereotypical and one-dimensional.
Set in the harsh, poverty-stricken world of the migrant Mexican worker, Under the Feet of Jesus, by Helena Maria Viramontes, is a story about a Latino family in California, trying to get by in a society that turns a cold shoulder to their every woe. As the characters endure hardship upon hardship throughout the book, the author's own ideology manifests itself in their slow loss of faith. Religion is no substitute for gritty human spirit in times such as these. By the end of the novel it seems clear that Perfecto's observation holds partly true: they can depend on nothing but themselves.
3. How does Steinbeck show that the American Dream can be dangerous? How is that reaffirmed by Viramontes? Does the promise of “home” play an important role in the works discussed in this unit? What about in the works of Viramontes and Rivera?
If we want to know Steinbeck’s view of the American dream a big clue is in the name of the book “of mice and men” this relates to a poem once about a field mouse that spends all year getting his food stocks ready for winter and then a big combine harvester comes along and destroys everything. The poem goes “The best laid schemes of mice and men aft gang agley” which means “the best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray”
This is already suggesting that the plans in the book or the dreams or even the American dream will never be realised and will always go wrong no matter how well it’s planned out. This also shows Steinbeck’s pessimistic view to life.
He also shows this in many ways like how in the book everyone is lonely and even the place where they are “Soledad” which actually means “loneliness” in Spanish and how there is so much discrimination in the book against characters which makes you think that Steinbeck probably always thought that that was the nature of humans and how it can never be changed. We see lots of status and power and people bullying others, and just basically the bad times they lived in.
Also Steinbeck shows it will never be realised because crooks dream of fitting in with everyone else was never realised and he didn’t get to help out on the farm. Or candies dream to actually keep working and not just live like a poor person on the streets when he becomes useless and old. Or even Curley’s wife’s dream where she wanted to be in the pictures and in all the glitz and stars up there in Hollywood.
Steinbeck finally shows the dream will never be realised by foreshadowing it, We anticipate that Lennie will kill Curley’s wife because we just know that it would happen sooner or later, the day would come, there would always be a “Curley's wife” that would temp Lennie and then he would kill her.