HIST 395 As stated in the textbook, “There had been several efforts to highlight the shortcomings of the system, such as Wild Boys of the Road (1933), Our Daily Bread (1934), and Dead End (1937), films that addressed unemployment, transients, agricultural problems, urban slums, and juvenile delinquency. These films, however, lack the power and emotional impact of Ford’s work…. Nor do previous screen entries adopt the openly sympathetic stance on aspirations of labor and unions that is so evident in this film. (SA, 67) The overall message Ford was trying to represent in this adaptation of the novel written by John Steinbeck was to, “expose the system’s shortcomings as well as man’s inhumanity to man. ” (SA, 68) Ford showed how all the people with power had some sort of machinery that would defeat man in scenes of Grapes of Wrath. The scenes where Muley has a couple of flashbacks to when they were told they had to leave their land by someone in a fancy car and then the destruction of their home by the big bulldozer showed how the power of the east, the banks had on people.
They destroyed the highest value of them all and that was family community, much like the plight of the Irish settlers during the famine in Ireland. Ford wanted to show how the destruction of family values forced people to revaluate their lives and move onto something new. Forcing them to go on the road to find some sort of “home”, which they find along the roadside in camps. America’s image of a perfect society included the idea of having a home, something you owned, a physical building, but when that was destroyed by the bulldozer, if forced the redefine what “home” really is.
Tom does leave at the end of the film and the scene with him walking up the hill sort of depicts an upward battle he faces for the future. I’m picturing Tom as a sort of leader in a community, kind of like how Sean Penn stood up for gay rights and ran for a spot in public office in San Francisco in the film Milk. I’m seeing Tom standing up for the farmers and the poverty stricken society of the 40s and 50s. Maybe he is the first to start Farm Aid instead of Willie Nelson? The song “Red River Valley” is played a few times in the film but comes up at the end of the film to signify an upbeat sort of ending to the film.
The song is about looking back at your past and carrying the light of the sun to a brighter future. The family is packed up and moving on with their lives, just like Tom would do in a follow up film. Tom would be a fighter for human rights and strive for equality of life, not letting factory-farming ruin the land and preserving family values. I foresee Tom standing up for rights of workers and maybe being one of those people that would chain himself to a tree to save the destruction of land. Tom would be assassinated or run over by a bulldozer in the final scene, he would be a savior of sorts for his actions.