Abstract

In the decades since its 1939 publication, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath has shaped the ways in which readers have understood the experience of rural Americans during the Great Depression. Steinbeck used frontier mythology to tap into American nostalgia for yeoman agriculture and anxiety about its perceived collapse during the 1930s. This essay explores the historical experience of Sallisaw, the Oklahoma community Steinbeck fictionalized in his novel. It argues that many aspects of Steinbeck's work reflected reality, but that the roots of local farmers' social and economic marginalization ran far deeper than he suggested. Furthermore, it demonstrates that struggling agriculturalists responded in a variety of ways to the catastrophe of the Depression, turning to federal relief, conservation, and marginal farmland when confronted with hard times.

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