The epoch of the Great Depression was, doubtlessly, one of the most infamous pages in the U.S. history. However, it did spawn a number of literature pieces devoted to a number of social issues, as well as numerous literature renditions of the supposed end of American society as it was. Steinbeck’s and Babb’s novels, though belonging to different eras, must be named among the most powerful works inspired by the dreadful event.
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Despite the use of different means of expression for getting their point across, resorting to different stylistic devices and creating different settings for their characters to act in, both Steinbeck and Babb render the same issue regarding the deplorable situation, in which the entire agrarian part of the USA was desperately stuck at the time of the Great Depression.
However, apart from the general topic, Steinbeck’s and Babb’s novels share a number of other details, like characters and dialogues, which seems to be, at the very least, a very interesting coincidence.
Speaking of the leading characters in both novels, one must mention that Steinbeck, as well as Babb, faced a considerable challenge when sculpting his leads.
In contrast to the minor characters, the former would have definitely chewed the scenery, which would have been acceptable in any other novel but the one that tackles the difficulties of living in the period of the Great Depression and, therefore, demands that the focus should be not on the characters, but on what effects the Great Depression had on these characters.
Basically, the Great Depression was the lead in each novel. As a result, both Steinbeck and Babb built the characters that did not evolve that much – in fact, they did not have to, since the people that survived the Great Depression were rather baffled off by the disaster than empowered with new knowledge – but, instead, represented the shattered American universe of what once was well-being and certainty.
Knowing how to use such medium as a book, both Babb and Steinbeck tend to represent their characters through a dialogue, using similar vocabulary and themes to portray their characters in a graphic manner. In these dialogs, Babb often uses the same images that Steinbeck did in his.
For example, Julia and Pete having a seemingly irrelevant talk about the trees at the beginning of the novel, Julia threatening jokingly to steal Pete’s trees: “I’ve always said I’d like to steal your trees” (Babb n.p.), is, actually, a reference to one of the least noticeable yet nonetheless significant moments in Steinbeck’s novel, with Joad coming across a man who is standing in front of the tree and chanting a prayer:
““Yes, sir, that’s my Saviour,/Je–sus is my Saviour,/Je–sus is my Saviour now” (Steinbeck n.p.). The language of Babb’s novel, however, sometimes seems too clean, as if she wanted not only to make the characters less stereotypical but also rip them off their cultural identity, which contrasts with the choice of language and dialect in Steinbeck’s novel: “Floyd jus’ tol’ me. Tell ’em, Floyd” (Steinbeck n.p.).
Another feature, which links the two novels together closer than Babb, probably, wanted to, concerns character design. To start with, the characters, though suffering several changes, with Babb’s tendency to simplify her protagonists, have remained practically untouched.
Naturally, Babb could not replace a typical Okie dweller with a citizen from Washington, yet the choice of an Okie family with two grown-up daughters rings a few too many bells when compared with the set of characters represented in Steinbeck’s story.
Finally, the ending scene, in which the men and women who had come all the way from Oklahoma in search for better life sit by the field and stare in the distance, bears too many similarities to the famous scene in Steinbeck’s novel, in which the family bonded with other Okies on the Route 66, with the same “sounds of silence” being the key theme of their communication.
However, while in Steinbeck’s novel the given scene seems only a nice touch to the overall strong novel, in Babb’s story, this scene is much heavier and, therefore, leaves a much greater impact on the reader.
While in Steinbeck’s novel, there was a glimmer of hope in the given scene, in Babb’s version, the people looking at the field, which is soon going to be barren, are desperately stuck. Therefore, one must give credit to where it belongs and admit that Babb’s version of the “moment of silence” was superior.
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Claiming that Babb borrowed the specifics of Steinbeck’s style in order to create a Great Depression related novel would be quite a stretch; however, it cannot be argued that both works have practically the same characters, recurrent dialogues and similar means of expression.
Although it must be admitted that the methods, which Steinbeck uses to convey his message to the readers, are somewhat different from the one that Babb resorts to in her novel, both writers tackle the same complicated concept, i.e., the depression that seized the entire world and was especially tangible in the U.S. and several more states, in a very similar manner.
Babb, Sanora. Whose Names Are Unknown: A Novel. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. Web.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. 1939. Web.