The Associated Farmers of California, Inc. Versus the Joads

How the “Red Scare” Shut the Door on the American Dream

Seminar Paper, 2012
23 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Origin of the “Red Scare”

3. The “Red Scare” and the American Dream

4. The Grapes of Wrath in the Context of the “Red Scare”
4.1 Style and Language
4.2 The Suffering of the Joads Under the “Red Scare” Paranoia
4.2.1 The Autocracy of the AF
4.2.2 The Right to Life and Liberty
4.2.3 The Right to Private Ownership of Property
4.3 The Motivations and Methods Behind the “Red Scare” Tactics
4.3.1 Motivation by Greed
4.3.2 Motivation by Existential Fear
4.3.3 Methods of Repression

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Steinbeck finished his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath in 1939. Itportrayes the suffering and hardships of the Joads, a migrant family from the Dust Bowl region of Oklahoma in their struggle to survive the dust storms, the dispossession of their land, the journey to California and finally their struggle to start a new life under the regime of the Associated Farmers of California. As Steinbeck’s profession was writing, in his mind the best way he could help stop the suffering was to write about it. Steinbeck wrote fictional as well as non-fictional works. Yet his fictional work was often closely related to reality. It was very important to him that his writing, especially during his early phase, when he wrote many of his critical social novels, had a high amount of credibility to it, in an attempt to offer his real-life antagonists as little leeway for criticism as possible. His works during his early phase had a common denominator - him being an advocate for the poor in an attempt to improve their situation.

Although The Grapes of Wrath has been one of the most successful books in American literature history, not everyone was delighted about the issues it touched. Ray Boren, Congressman of Oklahoma, treated Steinbeck’s work to the most severe abuse in a session in Congress,“I cannot find it possible to let this dirty, lying, filthy manuscript go heralded before the public without a word of challenge or protest” (Shockley 357). And just as Franklin D. Roosevelt was being “called more names and accused of more crimes than any man in history” (Steinbeck, Shillinglaw, and Benson 20) for his New Deal policies, which many felt threatened with, Steinbeck joined this illustrious circle of McCarthyist by feeling morally responsible for helping the working class in the United States to protect their civil rights. The Grapes of Wrath seemed to be a tipping point in his career. Ever since, he started to feel the wrath personally by those opposing his ideas as they tried to brand him as a supporter of “The Reds”. In 1942 he wrote a letter to the Attorney General of New York, Francis Biddle, in which he demanded “that Edgar´s boys stop stepping on [his] heels. They think I´m an enemy alien” (Steinbeck 17). Over time, Steinbeck was denounced for his works by fellow Americans and investigated by the FBI and other institutions of the executive branch on quite a few occasions as his recently released files show.

This thesis paper will analyze how Steinbeck´s Joads were discriminated against and violated in their civil rights by fellow Americansunder the banner of the“Red Scare”, effectively shutting the door on their personal American Dream for the time being, by stripping them off rights granted by the Founding Fathers to every American. This paper will look at facts why those tactics and methods have been - and to some part - are stillsuccessful within the American society in dividing it and creating fear, anger and social unrestwithinsociety. Afterthis paper gives a brief explanation of the term “Red Scare” and a short look at its history and roots in American culture it will explain why the communistic ideals are such an antipodein what most Americans believe and how this is reflected in the American Dream. This will help to understand why “Red Scare” tactics were quite successful inrallyingeveryday folks and in creating abrasive emotions.

After introducing the concept of the “Red Scare”, the paper will analyze how the Joads suffer under a system that is not meant to be in existence within the UnitedStates, as it allows the Associated Farmers of California, Inc. (AF – also referred to as the Farmers´ Association in the novel)to create a new labor slave class from Dust Bowl emigrants. Further,it will look at how the AF rallied fellow Californians under the perceived threat of Communism to create a “Red Scare” environmentagainst the Okies, which in effect made their effort of pursuing the American Dream unattainable.This paper, which uses the The Grapes of Wrath as a literary foundation, will verify fictional incidents with non-fictional sources.

The conclusion will have a look at the symbiotic and necessary relationship between the ruling and the working class and Steinbeck´s warning resonating through The Grapes of Wrath, and how this relationship takes damage through limitlessgreed and selfishness in mankind.

2. Origin of the“Red Scare”

“What the hell is these reds anyways? […] ‘Goddamn reds is drivin´the country to ruin,’ he says, an´ ´We got to drive these here red bastards out.’ […] ‘A red is any son-of-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when we´re payin´ twenty-five!´ […] ‘Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I ain´t a son-of-a-bitch, but if that´s what a red is – why, I want thirty cents an hour. Ever´body does. Hell, Mr. Hines, we´re all reds´”(Steinbeck 311–12).

The United States has always been a country of paradoxes and overindulgence. This can be attributed to its evolution and its multicultural background of immigrants, who left or were often forced off their native lands by political or economic oppression and had to fight for their survival in theNew World. Over centuries, they developed and lived their American Dream of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as a national ethos, developed from traumatic experiences of the past. To support their dream, they engaged in a “tradition of political pluralism diversity and civil liberties” (Schmidt 24). But it also had a dark side to it. To protect themselves from anything and anybody that threatens the American Dream, Americans were, and still are not afraid of using principles that stand in stark contrast to their national ethos. Schmidt names somestrategies, Americans tend to fall back on when protecting their Dream: “Intolerance, enforced conformity and repression” (Schmidt 24) and with the “Global War on Terror” conducted by the United States one could even add more drastic measures to this list.

As WW1 ended in 1918, the sudden transformation “from war time production and government planning” (Schmidt 24) back to “business as usual” as well as the reintegration of returning soldiers back into the labor force triggered an economic crises with a spike in unemployment and inflation during 1919-1920. As Polanyi describes in his book The Great Transformation, sudden and violent transformations within economic structures will always trigger a counter- or double movement within society in an attempt to protect itself from those forces at work. (Polanyi 135). In his strike novel In Dubious Battle, Steinbeck writes something very similar about the behavior of mankind. When people suffer of basic needs, they will rise to protect their interests; and the harder authority tries to keep them down with violence, the more violent and intense the countermovement will be, the more support it will gain from citizenswho vehemently disapprovedbefore (Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle 156).

The years 1919-1920 saw a series of organized labor strikes with the goal of raising wagesas wage increase demands during war time were subdued. Most of these strikes were carried out in a peaceful manner and contained legitimate labor demands. Employees demanded their right to collective bargaining, yet they were branded by employers and conservatives as revolutionary uprisings and therefore had to be stopped (Schmidt 26). When the Boston police force went on strike in an attempt to have its union recognized in September 1919, Calvin Coolidge, back then Governor of Massachusetts, dismissed the entire police force as he interpreted it as an unlawful strike against public safety (Schmidt 26).

Polanyi argues that the initial Russian Revolution of 1917 carried Western European ideals, namely the destruction of absolutism, feudal land tenure and racial oppression. It started with the English Commonwealth and reached Europe with the French Revolution of 1789 – Russia simply was a late bloomer in this process (Polanyi 241). But as Russia continued the century lasting process of abolishing absolutism, it was not welcomed by many already democratized Western Nations as they feared a renewed upheavalas the Bolsheviks called out for an overthrow of governments. They suddenly associated the Russian Revolution with disorder, and in reverse they associated disorder with Bolshevism. This environment proved to be a fertile and welcome breeding ground for the beginning of the “Red Scare”.

Fuel was added to the fireas the United States was hit by a series of mail bombings carried out by anarchists and an uprising of radicals, formed by recent European immigrants. This threat was greatly exaggerated by the government and its institutions as well as the media. Estimations ranged from about 40.000 immigrants at most who held a radical political view.Yet those had not had any influence within the nation due to their radical perspectivesto begin withbut they were seen as a threat to the nations democratic principles (Schmidt 25–26). In fact, returning soldiers initially wanted nothing else than pursue their American Dream as they returned from a cruel war, and revolution was certainly not on their minds as they entered the “Roaring 20´s”.

3. The “Red Scare” and the American Dream

How was it possible then, that the “Red Scare” found such a fertile breeding ground within the United States, and that it created paranoia within parts of society that had more in common with medieval witch-hunts than rational democratic thinking and judgment? The answer to this question lies in the opposing ideas of Communism and the national ethos of the American Dream, which seems to be enough of an antipode to create intense feelings of hate and fear.

Americans have been anti-Communist because they perceive Communism as truly threatening and alien. It is obvious that Communism contrasts sharply with American ideology and experience. Americans celebrate private ownership of property, private profit, individual initiative, and the free marketplace of capitalism (Paterson viii).

In his book, Meeting the Communist Threat, which focuses on Cold War policies from Truman to Reagan, Paterson argues, although Americans did not invent the Communist threat, they did their best to exaggerate it and use it for their individual profits, which had a lasting effect on international relations. It produced the Cold War with the constant threat of nuclear war and in the end damaged America’s institutions and its reputation worldwide. In this quote, Paterson describes the quintessential elements of the American Dream. In 1919, the Overman committee, which investigated German and Bolshevik elements within the United States (Schmidt 26), published an article in the New York Times, why Bolshevism was a threat to the established American Dream. In several argumentsit points out that Bolshevism is a system of autocracy, a dictatorship ruled by few over many.It respects “neither the right to life, liberty and property” by a policy that “the end justifies the means” (Overman et al.). Regarding the dispossession of big landowners, they arguedthat peasants would actually be worse off in the future than they had been in the past, as land would not get redistributed to everyone, but instead it would stay within the power of the Bolshevik government, and commoners never could own land themselves. They also pointed towards several pillars of the US constitution in regards to civil rights, as under the new regime there was no freedom of speech, no right to a fair and speedy trial as well as no protection from cruel and unfair punishment (Overman et al.). What is remarkable about this article is the fact that it is very much the opposite of what Americans believe in – point by point. Not once did the report mention the probability of such an event happening, nor did it explain why the Bolshevik Revolution happened in the first place. Instead it looks into the future and applies those Bolshevik principals to American society, painting a strong mental image of utter chaos if something similar would ever occur in the United States. An argument can be made against the Overman committee for fear mongering amongst its citizens and the creation of an artificial threat that never had the chance to happen in the first place. Their argumentation completely neglects the facts that those principles of Bolshevism emerged from a violent revolutionary environment just two years ago, which still was in the process of developing while the Overman committee already pronounced its verdict. Yet, by tailoring their arguments in a way that matched the perception of the American Dream point by point they certainly succeeded in making the public clairaudient as the future would show in many occasions.


Excerpt out of 23 pages


The Associated Farmers of California, Inc. Versus the Joads
How the “Red Scare” Shut the Door on the American Dream
University of Augsburg  (Lehrstuhl für Amerikanistik )
Nature & Culture in American Fiction
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
541 KB
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Red Scare, Joads
Quote paper
Jürgen Stary (Author), 2012, The Associated Farmers of California, Inc. Versus the Joads, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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