Steinbeck’s depiction of vehicles in The Grapes of Wrath reflects his nuanced automotive knowledge and his journalist’s eye for detail, and much has been said about the symbolic nature of the Joad’s 1926 Hudson Super Six as he depicts it. Time has eroded current readers’ understanding of the semiotic significances of their vehicle of deliverance and the other vehicles they encounter in the course of the novel. Just as a BMW or Corvette expresses status today, automobiles communicated cultural, political, and economic position in the Depression era. Steinbeck clearly intended to convey class and social standing with specific makes and models; however, readers today cannot place a 1925 Dodge or a 1926 Hudson Super Six in a meaningful social context, leaving a gap in potential understanding. I exhume the cultural valences of the automobiles that populate The Grapes of Wrath and reveal these significances in practical terms of cost, advertising, and styling. This will reveal larger social and economic patterns of an emerging consumerist class and the shift from an agrarian to an industrial America.


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pp. 138-154
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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