Before I start, please check out and like my new photography page Titus Wu Photography! One of my upcoming posts will be about my take on the art of photography.
As for now, there’s this passage from the novel The Grapes of Wrath that I want to share.
The houses were left vacant on the land, and the land was vacant because of this. Only the tractor sheds of corrugated iron, silver and gleaming, were alive; and they were alive with metal and gasoline and oil, the disks of the plow shining. The tractors had lights shining, for there is no day and night for a tractor and the disks turn the earth in the darkness and they glitter in the daylight. And when a horse stops work and goes into the barn there is a life and a vitality left, there is a breathing and a warmth, and the feet shift on the straw, and the jaws champ on the hay, and the ears and the eyes are alive. There is a warmth of life in the barn, and the heat and smell of life. But when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. The heat goes out of it like the living heat that leaves a corpse. Then the corrugated iron doors are closed and the tractor man drives home to town, perhaps twenty miles away, and he need not come back for weeks or months, for the tractor is dead. And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of land and the working of it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation. For nitrates are not the land, nor phosphates and the length of fiber in the cotton is not the land. Carbon is not man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis. That man who is more than his chemistry.. turning his plow point for a stone, dropping his handles to slide over an outcropping, kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch….knows the land that is more than his analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry….when the corrugated iron doors are shut, he goes home, and his home is not the land.
When I first came upon this passage, my first reaction was something that was stirring inside my heart. The lyrical rhythm of this passage is sort of like the beat of a heart- a beat of something living, something alive. I love how John Steinbeck (the author) repeats the same words over and over again, but in a poetic way, and with the intent of emphasizing the concepts behind those words. His focus on detail and his doing it so beautifully are what makes him such an unique outstanding writer. For example, he talks about how the horse is “breathing”, “[its] feet shift on the straw,” and how its “jaws champ on the hay,” and all of this creates a vivid, living image for me.
But from the content of this passage, we see a dilemma that was being faced in the past and we so face now- modernization of farming versus the old ways of farming. Using technology versus working by hand. As we see in our everyday lives, the benefits technology brings are enormous- we can spread ideas and communicate faster than ever, we are able to access and create many things easier than ever, and we have made our lives much more comfortable because of technology. As stated in this passage, “…this is easy and efficient.”
However, there are drawbacks to these benefits, which Steinbeck laments, how “the wonder goes out of the land….and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation.” Using the beautiful images of plowing, kneeling into the earth, and farming, Steinbeck is praising and mourning the deep connection between the farmer and his land. This concept I find fascinating, given I have never seen a farm before, but it reminds me of the same passion between a worker and his job, something that is so rare in this industrial world.
And then how Steinbeck breathes life into the land by comparing it to man, how the land is more than just its compositions. Where is this type of passion these days? I see almost none. By passion, I don’t mean having an interest or liking towards a subject, I mean what Steinbeck means- seeing the subject as life. When I write, take photos, listen to music, I see it as breathing, as an organism. But most people now just do their jobs for the money and nothing more, whereas with these farmers, they saw their land as their own family.
But was Steinbeck blaming technology? No. He was blaming the human greed behind all of it, and how technology has furthered that greed. Before the Industrial Revolution, everything was made by hand. Jugs, baskets, etc. and for those craftsmen, it was art. Once technology and the factory settled in, all of that was nearly eliminated. Why? Because technology made things easier, and thus, cheaper. And by wiping out craftsmen, it was also wiping out a way of art, a way of passion. “He goes home, and his home is not the land.”
But for me, it’s something else. My school is a very academically-strong school, but I feel for the wrong reasons. I ask a friend of mine, why did you join that club? He says, for college. Why do you go to college? For a good job. Why a good job? So I can make more money and have a happier life. In the end, it’s that want for money and for a wealthier material lifestyle. But I see that because of this, they don’t see the passion and the life between them and what they learn. They may achieve that materialistic lifestyle, but in the end, they’re giving up on so much more.
Steinbeck mourned the loss of this passion he was seeing. It’s so sad that it still exists today.