In his interesting portrayal of the 1930's »Dirt Dish John Steinbeck shows a unique and profound understanding of the British language. He presents one of the darkest generations of American history with an intricate mixture of different styles, rhetorical devices and a highly unusual structure. One of the defining characteristics of the book is the utilization of interchapters, or »intercalary chapters, as Steinbeck scholar Peter Lisca phone calls them. These chapters are criticized by some readers for supposedly being disruptive to the movement of the »main account. I do not consider this to be the circumstance. Actually, these chapters add relevant, to the present day reader almost essential, background information on the social and monetary situation, of that time period depicted in the novel. They promote the reserve from only fiction book to a documentary-like ancient overview.
Nevertheless, I really do see the logic behind the critics' promise. The intercalary chapters make up for almost a sixth of the book, yet often lack an apparent connection to the Joad family story. However, as careful visitors will note, there is always a subtle connection, with which Steinbeck weaves these »interruptions into the textile of his report. For example, the elements that is present in the intercalary chapters often continues in to the chapters immedately pursuing them, while symbolically used general representatives are sometimes brought into the main history. Such is the situation with the turtle that people first come across in chapter three. In the interchapter it is fairly obvious that the utilization of this tireless turtle is metaphoric, and is probably a symbol for the hardworking farmers. However the author, somewhat ironically, brings the turtle alive in the very next section when Tom picks it up as a gift for his younger siblings. Peter Lisca message or calls this technique of co-reference between the primary storyline and the intercalary chapters, juxtaposition.
The divide between your tale of the Joad family and the accompanying chapters is deepened by the stark contrast of styles used within them.
"Jesus, where'd that Apperson result from, the Ark? And a Chalmers and a Chandler-ain't made 'em for years. We ain't sellin' cars-rolling rubbish. Goddamn it, I got to get jalopies. I don't want little or nothing for more'n twenty-five, thirty cash. Sell 'em for fifty, seventy-five. That's a good profit. Christ, what trim does one make on a fresh car? Get jalopies. I could sell 'em fast as I get 'em. Little or nothing over 2 hundred fifty. Jim, corral that old bastard on the sidewalk. Don't know his ass from a hole in the bottom. Try him on that Apperson. Say, where is that Apperson? Sold? If we do not get some jalopies we acquired nothing to sell. " (p. 70)
In sections like this one, from the seventh section car-salesman monolog, we can see a technique known as blast of awareness which is typical for the Modern Novel. At exactly the same time the rigorously detailed trend that is applied throughout the book is more similar to realism than modernism. Steinbeck does not stop here though. His vivid images of dynamics and the climatic changes that brought about the agricultural catastrophe the book is based on, add an almost impressionistic taste to his writing. This is well demonstrated in the first chapter.
"The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of every renewable bayonet. The clouds made an appearance, and travelled away, and in a while they did not try any longer. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not distributed any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, so that the sky became pale, therefore the earth became pale, red in the red country and white in the gray country. " (p. 1)
Another peculiarity of Steinbeck's book is his use of dialect, jargon and archaic terms such as: lifer, spam, jalopy, hackles, gelding, squatter, stir-bug and countless others. This surely hinders understanding and frustrates the purist reader, but it addittionally infuses the story with lifelike realism which makes The Grapes of Wrath a testimony of its time.
To make the report more striking and also to touch and require the audience, Steinbeck utilizes several elements. He dramatizes, you can even lay claim he overdramatizes, with his apocalyptic forecasts that often allude to The Bible. And he uses absurd images that shock, disgust or even anger the audience. The premier exemplory case of this can be found in the twenty-fifth chapter, where the writer describes how the numerous produce of the land has to be remaining to rot or even be intentionally used up in the name of earnings, while hundreds and thousands are left to starve. Quite interesting, and rarely applied, narrative approach utilized by Steinbeck to require the audience, is his shift from the all-knowing, third person, narrator that exists in the bulk of the novel, to the second-person narrator as observed in the bellow quote.
"Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Pay attention with your ears and with your hands on the tyre; pay attention with the palm of your side on the gear-shift lever; listen with your legs on the floor boards. Pay attention to the pounding old jalopy with all of your senses, for a change of firmness, a deviation of rhythm may suggest - a week here?" (p. 136)
Apart from the second-person narrative, we can see another aspect in this section that the writer uses many times throughout the novel to better convey his communication - namely, the rhetorical device called repetition.
Steinbeck's immenesly complicated style is unfriendly, severe and provocative. His novel is, by no means, easy reading, and I believe this is not any coincidence. The lives of the "Okies" weren't easy either. The Grapes of Wrath is a brutally honest and eloquently produced novel that wears its viewers down by having a bombardment of sensational images of individual fighting and injustice and forces these to confront the truth of its grief-stricken personas. I believe it is its uncompromising style, which so effectively describes the consequences of the combination of The Great Unhappiness and one of the most detrimental natural disasters in U. S. history, on the Individuals who makes this novel truly - Great.