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Critical Lens

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Helen Keller once said that, “…although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” This can be interpreted to mean that despite the horrors of the world, people will always fight oppression in order to regain humanity. These fighters are often credited with putting balance back into the world and maintaining a sense of identity, despite their adversity and in many cases throughout history, this is true. Two works of literature where this is so are: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and Night by Elie Wiesel. Two literary elements that support this statement are conflict and symbolism. The lengths that some will go in order to protect themselves from oppressors is astounding and admirable in many instances.

John Steinbeck is a world renowned author who exemplifies his writing skills in The Grapes of Wrath. This is a novel about migrant workers during the Dust-Bowl disaster and their acclimation to a new life that is filled with social and economic discrimination. Steinbeck uses conflict in order to enhance his ability to accurately depict the migrant workers. The most prominent conflict throughout the story was the workers’ fight to acquire jobs. The workers were cast outs in the new environment of California, and they were treated like so. All were given wages that were far below fair, but many continued to work as hard as possible to provide for their family. This proves that in the face of hunger and poverty, true determination and leadership emerge in order to maintain freedom from those who are putting them down.

In the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck uses many metaphors to represent the resilience of the migrant workers. One such symbol that is perceived to be the most important is the turtle. At the beginning of the story, a turtle is crossing a road and in its’ travels it is hit accidentally by a driver. This turtle brushes it off and continues to push on across the road. However, a larger truck is coming and this time the driver intentionally hits the turtle launching it off the road, but the turtle regains its’ bearings and again attempts to make it across. These drivers are thought to be the banks
and business of the time period. The first driver would be when the banks begin to increase rates and requirements; where the workers are stumbling on their wages, but continue to work in order to make it through. However, the second driver is the bank once again but this time it aims to destroy the workers in order to get what it wants, which are profits. This injures the workers ability to recover, until they are forced off their land and were coerced to look for work elsewhere. This turtle is tenacious and resilient, much like the migrant workers. They keep getting back up after they are hit, and continue to fight for their families and dignity.

Elie Wiesel tells a different but similar story than that of John Steinbeck. Elie was a young Jewish man in Romania during the time of Hitler’s Third Reich and Night is his story of being in a concentration camp. Elie’s entire story is surrounded by the conflict of the Nazi Party against the Jewish religion. The Jews were thought to be inferior to the Nazis and they were also blamed as the cause for the German defeat in World War I. Elie encounters many conflicts such as almost being selected for execution, nearly starving and freezing to death, and maintaining his mental state of mind. The Jews as a group resisted the Nazi effort but were unable to avoid the death camps. Elie was able to fight till the end and make it out alive because of his determination to overcome the oppression set before him.

Wiesel’s story is not only one of truth, but one of artistic expression. He expresses himself and his feelings through the imagery he uses to describe the events of the book. Wiesel uses symbols in order to deepen the feeling the book has. The most prominent of the symbolism used, is the term night. Generally, night is a time of darkness, mystery, and fear. He repeats the word night in many instances where he is talking about the conditions of the camps or his memories. By using “night”, Wiesel could be expressing his feeling that the entire experience was dark, unknown and silent. In this case, not only is Wiesel being oppressed by the Nazis but also by the night itself by not allowing him to feel like himself. The night brings the realization that this could be the last day of it all and that there will be no more need to struggle. Elie Wiesel’s ability to paint a picture in the mind comes partly from his memory but also from the symbols and imagery he

Although the world is full of suffering, there are those that fight through that suffering in order to maintain their being. John Steinbeck and Elie Wiesel both wrote about the oppression people face in life and how they got through it. The characters in The Grapes of Wrath and Night are true warriors and hold the ideals in order to overcome their suffering.

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