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Armies of the Dispossessed: Labor, Landscape, and Representation in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath


California has existed in the collective imaginary of popular American culture as the 'Land of Promise', or Eden of the American West, at the very least since its state ratification in 1850. Early representations of the American West drew many to the California landscape in search of this mythical "garden". This project examines how landscape, operating as a visual ideology, impacted social relations between workers and farmers in California agricultural industry during the 1930s. My argument is that landscape as a visual ideology imposed severe restrictions on the representation of migrant labor through what I define as the 'cultural optics of labor'. This project explores how John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) mediates the complex exchanges between labor, landscape, and representation during the Dust Bowl era, suggesting that the novel develops a set of possibilities for worker revolution along the two ideological lines of space and class.

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