John Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath” is the story of the Joads, a poor, working-class family from Oklahoma who are forced to abandon their home during the Great Depression and set out for California in search for a better future. BBC reporter Paul Mason recently retraced the Joad’s journey down that same route (Route 66) to find out how life today compares to the way Steinbeck describes it during the Great Depression.
Mason found that although decades have passed since the troubled days Steinbeck wrote of, Route 66, now interstate 40, is still riddled with poverty, hidden homelessness and prejudice. Along the way, he stopped at Joy Junction, a modern shelter for the homeless much like the one the Joads lived in for some time which is now home to many middle-class families unable to afford houses of their own. When asked what she would say to the “rich” Americans who have never lived the way she and her father are forced to, Joy Junction resident Michelle Antista, 14, stated that, “If they could live just one day of our lives, they would see how hard it is and how good they have it.”
Later on their journey, Mason visited a prison in Phoenix, mostly full of Mexican migrants. One of the migrants living in the jail stated that when you enter the facility, “you don’t have a name anymore. You become a number and they call you ‘alien’ as if you are from another planet.”
But when drawing comparisons between Steinbeck’s portrayal of the journey and the actually trip itself, the Mason stated that, “There is nothing in Steinbeck to prepare you for the vastness...and the distance that the 30s dustbowl migrants had to face,” going onto say that he doesn't think “Steinbeck ever made the full journey. What Steinbeck knew about was what lay at the end of the journey, which was social conflict. And today, you don’t have to get to the end of the journey to find that.”
To find out more about the modern day Grapes of Wrath route, check out the video below!