Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“The Grapes of Wrath”: John Steinbeck's cognitive landscapes as commentary on 1930s industrialization
by Marshall, Richard D., Ph.D., Saint Louis University, 2009, 226; 3383306
Abstract (Summary)

John Steinbeck was a writer who created memorable stories and deeply cared about people, particularly the dispossessed and the persecuted. These people were the subject of his greatest novels. Steinbeck's critics in the 1930s viewed him as an anti-capitalist and anti-industrialist because of his desire to document the horrid living conditions in the agricultural fields of California's Central Valley, but, in reality, Steinbeck's beliefs and attitudes were ambivalent when writing about the complex relationships that drove the social and economic life in the 1930s. Steinbeck created landscapes in The Grapes of Wrath to illustrate the effects of rapid industrialization within the American society of the 1930s, supporting a complex economic system that provided both benefits and liabilities to those living in this period of change.

Cultural landscapes derive meaning through the hard work and effort of those who modify their physical surroundings. In much the same way, Steinbeck mentally crafted landscapes full of meaning as the setting for the characters of The Grapes of Wrath to act upon. This study has termed the landscape, crafted in the author's mind and used as the background setting for the novel, the "cognitive landscape." This cognitive landscape created for The Grapes of Wrath served as Steinbeck's unwitting autobiography, documenting his tastes, values, aspirations, and fears, all in a visible form.

This study analyzes Steinbeck's three most prevalent cognitive landscapes; the highway, automobile, and migrant camp. Steinbeck created the highway landscape to illustrate the struggle between opportunity and oppression. He crafted the automobile landscape to describe the tension between the need to be mobile and the need to remain focused on the values that exist at home. He formed the migrant camp landscape to symbolize the tension of living between the worlds centered on both dislocation and community.

This dissertation analyzes John Steinbeck's cognitive landscapes to argue that although he cared deeply for the story of the migrant workers, he wasn't an anti-capitalist or anti-industrialist, but he offered a complex and ambivalent viewpoint in this story and documented those feelings through the cognitive landscapes he created for The Grapes of Wrath.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ott, Cindy
School: Saint Louis University
School Location: United States -- Missouri
Source: DAI-A 70/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Geography, American literature
Keywords: American studies, Cognitive landscape, Grapes of Wrath, Industrialization, Landscape analysis, Nineteen 30s, Steinbeck, John
Publication Number: 3383306
ISBN: 978-1-109-45486-4
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