When people talk of the global recession, they make reference to the Great Depression, which turned the USA from the land of plenty into the land of poverty. It is this, non-official America that Steinbeck writes about.
The author keeps distance from the Wall Street reports. The recession is not man-made. The drought and the dust storm finish it, the Joads’ land goes to the bank and the family has to go West searching for a better lot. Yes, the book names particular banks, associations, cartels, which maximize their profits, but all these organizations are faceless. The whole novel doesn’t show a single person who would speak on their behalf! On the opposite, there are many employees who serve them against their will. It looks like this is the environment, not the people who push the Joads and the like of them to the West.
The migrants suffer a lot. They are cheated by car dealers, cops, beaten by the locals in California, underpaid by peach plantation owners. And every second chapter generalizes the things explaining the motives of the parties, how unavoidable the evil is.
The 20th c. reveals the shadows of the times long gone and you see the lean years come and the Jews leave Egypt. Casy, the preacher dies saying: “They don’t know what they are doing”. A basket with a child goes down the roaring river in a flood.
The writer is deeply concerned by the future of the country that has come through it, of the people who have suffered so much. Will they form communes like the Weedpatch government camp or stay strike breakers thinking short-term? There is no answer, and this is the main message of the book. There are no “reds” or their opponents, but the people who remain people and are able to share their own milk with a fellow creature. It is them who have revived America.