John Steinbeck Knew the Homeless Are Human: Do We? by Tom Blunt
This article has been published on the Signature website. It begins:
Displaced. Migrants. These are words used to describe the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s depiction of Dust Bowl-era hardship in The Grapes of Wrath, but they were most definitely also homeless.
For decades, the word “homeless” has been employed to distinguish those who count as part of the population from those whom, for whatever reason, have ended up living outdoors. Other faceless masses include addicts, illegals, refugees, and more recently, the uninsured.
This distancing tactic in our language is the first step to depersonalizing those you don’t wish to be associated with, and a depersonalized individual becomes fair game for humor, suspicion, exploitation, and even violence.
Steinbeck knew this – it’s reflected in virtually every hardship endured by the Joad family, whose journey from the barren farmlands of Oklahoma to the supposedly bountiful valleys of California is marred by humiliation and death. During the Great Depression, such people were known as “Okies,” and were regarded as less than human, as if misfortune itself might be contagious.