The Loss of Passion, From The Grapes Of Wrath

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.

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Excerpt From Great Expectations

Recently, I have been studying for the SAT. One thing I have noticed about the SAT verbal section is that their passages the test-writers test you on are very insightful or full of meaning. Well, two days ago, I stumbled on an excerpt from a novel while practicing the SAT. The only thing the test said about this novel was that it was by a British author. So I decided to search up where this passage came from, and it turns out that this passage was from the novel Great Expectations, written by the famous Charles Dickens.

To see the excerpt, download pdf here: Great Expectations Excerpt.

So for today, I will write about this excerpt, and I will attempt to analyze it.

In the first paragraph, one gets a background of the speaker. One can assume that he holds a distinguished and very possibly rich position, as mentioned as to how people react to him and of him saying, “my position was a distinguished one.” Yet, besides his status in society, one also gets something even more important: his attitude. In the paragraph, the speaker speaks in a way as if he was enjoying having people notice him because of his status, even emphasizing on the little details like “as if they had forgotten something.” It is because of this attitude that brings him trouble in this passage. Near the end of the first paragraph, however, he mentions “I was not at all dissatisfied with [his position], until Fate threw me in the way of … Trabb’s boy.” Here, one sees a foreshadowing of Trabb’s boy being the main problem and more significantly, the cause of a change of heart.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Before we continue on, I would like to first analyze the outside context of the story. First of all, who was Charles Dickens? Charles Dickens was a famous author, who grew up poor and through diligence and hard work ended up successful. Many of his famous works include The Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, which all dealt with the poor. Perhaps the reason for this was partially because of his indigent past, but mostly for the fact that he was a social reformer, advocating for good social changes. In a sense, he wrote his stories to describe and show wealthy and not-poor readers the conditions of the poor. He wanted them to sympathize with the helpless and try to win their help.

With this outside-context information, one can make a few assumptions. Since Dickens wanted the wealthy to sympathize, he had to write from their point of view, as in the case with this passage. In a sense, the speaker in this excerpt symbolizes the wealthy during his time as a whole. The gap between wealthy and poor was actually pretty big during Dicken’s time, partly due to the rich’s indifferent attitude towards the needy. So, just as Dickens wanted the rich to have a change of heart, so does he plan to have the speaker here have his own change of opinion.

Now onto the second paragraph. The speaker mentions Trabb’s boy disrupting his “progress,” which implies that the narrator thinks of his stroll as a kind of procession. In the next sentence, he decides to approach him with a supercilious attitude, so as to “most likely quell [Trabb’s boys’] evil mind.” Here, Trabb’s boy resembles the attitude of the poor. When the speaker decides to use the arrogant attitude, Dickens is saying that the rich approach the poor with a similar kind of attitude, thinking wrongly that it will make the poor feel humbled and low. Yet, Dickens shows the reader, that this is not so, as symbolized when Trabb’s boy pretends to be frightened and humbled.  One sees that the poor, symbolized by Trabb’s boy, will at first only begin to resent this kind of superiority shown by the rich. But, notice that this is just “at first.”

The next paragraph, Trabb’s boy appears again, to the narrator’s “inexpressible terror, amazement, and indignation.” The narrator was not expecting Trabb’s boy to appear again; in the same way, the rich during Dicken’s time probably assumed that this poverty issue was only a temporary thing and of no important concern. Yet just like the narrator was surprised, so as Dickens implies will the wealthy be amazed and terrorized that this poverty issue will keep on coming up and is unavoidable. Why was the narrator in terror? Because, as the excerpt shows, the second time Trabb’s boy comes along, he mocks and humiliates the rich narrator even more. Similarly, the more the rich keep on ignoring this poverty issue that keeps on coming up, the more resentful the poor will be against the rich, which can always result in the unimaginable worse. In the second encounter, besides the narrator getting even more embarrassed, one sees a difference in that there is “a knot of spectators,” who laughed along while Trabb’s boy was mocking the rich speaker. They were not laughing at the boy, but rather at the narrator himself. Dickens tries to tell his targeted wealthy audience that the commoner too, represented by the spectators, are also resenting against them.

Trabb’s boy appears for the third and final time in the last paragraph, and when the poor resent against the upper class for a supposedly final time, it is usually a violent rebellion. The speaker begins by describing Trabb’s boy as “wearing the blue bag in the manner of my great-coat… accompanied by a company of delighted young friends.” Trabb’s boy is attempting to imitate the wealthy narrator. Since the boy symbolizes the poor, one can derive from this that the poor is in a sense also attempting to imitate the rich, thereby showing that the poor passionately desires and envies what the upper class has. Dickens also tells us through the group of friends that it will not be just one poor guy revolting, but a whole mass of them. Later in the paragraph, the boy mocks the narrator with the words, “Don’t know yah!” Remember from the first paragraph that the narrator’s initial purpose was to make Trabb’s boy humbled and lowered. Rather, as those three words show, the opposite happens, where Trabb’s boy aka the poor is asserting equality and perhaps even superiority towards the narrator aka the rich. In the end, the passage culminates into the boy and his friends chasing the wealthy speaker out of town; Dickens is implying similarly the poor will do the same thing too.

All in all, the lesson from the passage here to the rich is to be nicer to the poor. In the passage, the speaker has this arrogant attitude towards the townspeople and his result is being kicked out by them. Dickens hoped that the rich would not also make the same mistake of being arrogant towards the needy, or else the poor will also rebel, too, and perhaps on an even worse scale.