restricted access “They ain’t human”: John Steinbeck, Proletarian Fiction, and the Racial Politics of “The People”

This essay argues that the humanism professed by many Popular Front writers was part of a tactical attempt to make Marxist propaganda both more effective and more responsive to the unique challenges of American racial and cultural politics. Thus, if John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) seems calculated to resonate with a white, middle-class audience, this is not because Steinbeck’s humanism was covertly racist and bourgeois, but because he deliberately used humanism to correct readers’ previously-held sympathies with racist and bourgeois ideologies.