Jeffersonian Agrarianism in the Grapes of Wrath
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“Jeffersonian Agrarianism in the Grapes of Wrath”
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is a story of the experiences of the Joad family from the time of their eviction from a farm in Oklahoma to their first winter in California. This eviction from their home brings out an important theme throughout the novel: Jeffersonian Agrarianism. Jefferson taught and believed in self-sufficiency through the independent farmer. He despises urban life and capitalism which destroys independence and dignity. Steinbeck expresses Jeffersonian Agrarianism during this eviction of small farmers through capitalists taking farmers land, farmers feeling connected to the land, and fathers not being the head of the family anymore.

One example of Jeffersonian Agrarianism in Grapes of Wrath is through the banks taking these farmers land, or “tractoring them out”. Most farmers owed a debt to the banks because of loans. So, the bank or “monster” felt like they had the right to devastate their lives by destroying everything they have and worked on for years with tractors. This brings up Jeffersonian Agrarianism because Jefferson believed everyone had an equal opportunity to acquire land and the power attached to land ownership. So, wiping their power away from them was destroying the idea of land equals opportunity which was planted in their minds before this “tractoring out” of small farms.

Another example of Jeffersonian Agrarianism in the novel is in the farmers connection with the land. Jefferson believed in the farmers sense of identity because they owned land. These farmers truly felt one with the land, so leaving their land meant leaving a part of themselves. Two characters within Grapes of Wrath which portray this idea are Muley Graves and Grampa Joad. Muley Graves had the “monster” come in and take his land, but he felt so connected to the land that he left his family who went and searched for new land. Grampa Joad, on the other hand, tried to leave his land but it killed him mentally and emotionally, ultimately killing him physically because of this loss of dignity and a part of himself. These two characters clearly show how extreme Jeffersonian Agrarianism was expressed in the novel.

The last example of Jeffersonian Agrarianism by the eviction of these small farmers is through not just the loss of dignity, but the loss of control the fathers had in the family when their land was taken. Many fathers lost the control to keep their family together through this migration west. In Grapes of Wrath, Pa Joad has a hard time being the leader of the family when he has no land to fuel his power. These farmers were in a way “bigger than themselves” when they had land. So, when Pa Joad is evicted, he feels ashamed and embarrassed of his weaker position to his wife.

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Jeffersonian Agrarianism And Time Of Their Eviction. (April 16, 2021). Retrieved from