America has always been the land of opportunity and freedom, where those who were previously impoverished have a great chance to find greater value in their lives with the help of American ideals and economy. From the founding of the nation to the current day union, Americans are always looking to expand their wealth. However, does this attempted expansion accumulate in something far greater than wealth? What are the effects of being caught up in money, and are these results positive or negative?
When first introduced to this question, I thought that, of course, wealth is something that everybody should strive for, yet in order to find an answer for this question, I explored the topic deeper using different resources to analyze the question and find evidence for both perspectives of the argument. Using John Steinbeck’s award-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, my very own AP English textbook, and the boundless realm of the world, I was able to not only evaluate, but also explain the answer to this ever eluding question.
To begin interpreting this question, we have to know what the dollar means. In my eyes, the dollar represents all of the work and pain that one undergoes. The dollar is the physical reward that embodies the success that the person has attained, and in embodying that, the dollar is a flaunting of power. Money is wealth, and money is power.
When I read through Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, I immediately noticed a great division among the Americans that Steinbeck wrote about. The Americans were split, not only idealistically regarding farming and morals, but also economically. There were some Americans in much more favorable financial situations than others, and Steinbeck made sure to note this divide.
Although there is the possibility that the difference in lifestyles between the poor and wealthy causes one group to flourish and the other to scrap, I believe that it is the power of the dollar that results in this vivid separation.
The wealthy, Californians and corporate farmers, are obliviously rude and immoral as they pay their workers minimally and attempt to rip off traveling farmers with necessary products such as tires and food. Not only that, but the farmers are polar opposites, opting to help one another out and work together in order to attain their goals. While the rich want to get richer, the poor merely want to help the rest of the community live happily. For example, Tom Joad gives up his life essentially when he decides to leave his family and help organize groups of people to better their living standards. Also, in the midst of a flood in which the possible outcome was threatening, many families stuck by the Joads, ultimately risking their lives to help others. And of course, Rose of Sharon’s heroic act in which Ma and Sharon “looked deep into each other. The girl’s breath came short and grasping. She said ‘Yes.'”
Despite this type of characterization occurring throughout the novel’s entirety, beginning with Jim Casey’s view on humanity and culminating in Rose of Sharon’s immensely brave and loving act, there were still a couple of contradictions to my theory. In one of the intercalary chapters, Steinbeck reverses the role of good and evil, placing well off truck drivers to be the moral justice and the poor diner owners, Al and Mae, to be selfish. Mae refused to give to the traveling farmers despite her being in a similar situation and it is not until Al convinces her to help that she gives in, resulting in the truck drivers to leave her an extra large tip.
Steinbeck’s novel as a whole, however, mirrors the idea that with greater wealth and money comes greater ethical problems, such as greed and tyranny.
Another source that I used in order to further evaluate this question was my English textbook. In this textbook was Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Address,” in which Washington describes the state of the union, particularly in regards to racial and social equality.
I believe this section of the textbook to be important because Booker T. Washington was an outlier that conflicted with my answer to the question. Washington was an African American who was born into slavery, but due to his hard work and determination, was able to rise out of the chains of slavery and live the American dream by attending school and becoming an educated scholar. In fact, he became the first African American to be selected to speak in front of a group of Americans, white nonetheless.
“Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life, shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful.”
~ Booker T. Washington
Washington, in his address, talked about his unprecedented journey up the economic ladder and how African Americans in that time should not focus on complete and immediate social justice, but rather work in developing their skills and further contribute to society in order to break free of the financial burden of slavery. Not only is Washington, a well off man, sharing his knowledge and ideas with others, but also addresses the problems with the society during the time, thus promoting prosperity towards both the wealthy and the poor. In this way, he effectively supports his fellow African Americans who are poor but also finds reason in the minds of hsi fellow wealthy Americans.
Aside from literature and speeches, there are many other disciplines of life in which the problems of money, greed, lust, envy, tyranny, reflect themselves. In history, there have been an insurmountable number of instances in which a king or ruler in power develops ill-mannered qualities and transitions into tyranny: King Louis of France, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, etc. After attaining so much, these people became obsessed with the power and, instead of helping one another and distributing the wealth, wanted to continue to accumulate the power in any way possible, leading to great conflict and tension historically.
Outside of history, there are other examples that illustrate this idea. In the documentary/movie that was shown to us in our English class, Fresh, the director(s) outlined the importance of fresh and organic foods due to the dangerous and threatening effects of industrially produced foods. Nevertheless, the local farmers in that video stated that the American people’s greatest fear is inconvenience, and explained how people rarely bought organic foods due to the great price. Not only does saving money and maintaining their wealth make them blind to life’s hazards, but the situation is so severe that an entire movie was dedicated to informing the public of these conditions.
I am not saying that wealth is a bad thing, but it may not necessarily be a good thing either. With wealth comes many problems politically, financially, morally, and idealistically. However, there have been occasions in which the wealthy have overcome the boundaries that hold them to the stereotypes of society, but these occasions are few and far in number, hence why people fight over “raining money.”
With the evidence from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, my English textbook, and life itself, my answer to the question is that wealth, when abused, leads to addiction, greed, evil, and ignorance. However, when wealth is promoted and shared positively such as in the English textbook, it leads to a truly wonderous sight and joyful life.