Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath” has been the subject of much critical attention. Many of the novel’s detractors have concentrated their critiques not upon its literary failings, but rather its politics (Zirakzadeh). At the time of the novel’s publication and in the years since, such critics have condemned Steinbeck’s expression of the failings of capitalism. The story of the Joad family is largely an indictment of the inequitable socio-economic system that is vital to a capitalist economy. According to Karl Marx, the independent farmer represented the last remaining obstacle to fulfilling the capitalist owner’s dream of transforming the entire American labor class into a commodity (368). In detailing the plight of the farming class, Steinbeck foresaw the future of the American economic system in which the worker would become more disenfranchised and alienated and economic power would be placed into the hands of an increasingly shrinking minority. An overriding theme of the novel is that both responsibility and reward should be shared equitably; a view that is in direct contrast to the underlying owner/employee structure of capitalism. Steinbeck’s commitment to the belief that the natural state of humanity is helpful rather than exploitative is perfectly symbolized by the novel’s infamous closing scene in which Rose of Sharon literally gives of the milk of human kindness. The implication of Rose of Sharon’s act is that the hardship faced by the Joads and other families could have been avoided, or at least lessened, had the banks been willing to treat the farmers as human beings instead of commodities.The historical background of the novel is fundamental to any critical understanding of the narrative. Steinbeck employs a narrative structure that alternates between the Joad family’s story and chapters that present the reader with a deeper understanding of the socio-economic conditions of impoverished America. These chapters serve a vital function by forcing the reader to become intellectually engaged with the historical events that led the Joads to their current state. The non-narrative chapters provide not only a valuable history lesson, but also drive home Steinbeck’s point that that the economic and political institutions of America are designed not to help the individual but to maintain profit, whatever the human cost (Johnson 9). The socialism that so many politically conservative critics found intolerable in The Grapes of Wrath is a socio-economic ideological theory. Socialism is founded on the notion that co-operation enriches human lives, while competition improverishes them. Under a capitalist system, in which the unequal distribution of wealth and private ownerships are considered natural, even sacred phenomena, socialism is a dangerous philosophy. Steinbeck increased the consternation of his critics by also suggesting that socialism is a natural offshoot of Christianity. The Christian-Socialist movement in America had long viewed capitalism as a threat to the tenets taught by Jesus Chris (Dorn 2-7). This view was no more popular in Steinbeck’s time than it is now; American religious leaders have long maintained various claims that socialism presents a threat to Christianity. The Grapes of Wrath is a powerful indictment of that belief. The character Jim Casy, who is estrangement from organized religion, represents the corruption of the actual teachings of Christ by the institution of the church. Casy’s conversion to a less organized version of Christianity is important because it implicates religion in the economic institutions meant to dehumanize people. Casy acts as the catalyst that drives Tom Joad’s eventual radicalization. When he speaks to Tom about his own philosophic journey it take the form of a spiritual quest; his ideas are eventually realized in Tom as a socio-political quest. In this very subtle way, Steinbeck succeeds in drawing parallels between the corruption of the church and the corruption of the economic system in America. The novel’s detractors view Casy’s words as evidence that socialism cannot be equated with Christ because he says: “Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe, I figgered, maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit — the human sperit — the whole shebang” (31). On the surface the criticism that Steinbeck is attacking belief in God seems well-placed, but within the context of the rest of the novel, it becomes clear that Casy isn’t dissatisfied with God or Jesus, but rather with the way religion has co-opted the Bible for its own political purposes. A closer reading of the text reveals that what Casy is really proposing is something even more radical than socialism: that people would do better if they followed Christ’s instruction to love their neighbors. Steinbeck uses the story of the Joads to illustrate the consequences of faith in the basic tenets of socialism and the compatibility of socialism with the teachings of Christ. Another implication of Casy’s words is that abstract theories and ideals are meaningless unless they are enacted. The state may preach the ideals of Christianity or democracy; however, when it doesn’t practice what they preach those ideals become null and void. Steinbeck engages the Joads to suggest that perhaps the reason these institutions don’t practice their theories is because then would be revealed as charlatans. Moreover, his representation of the Joads and the rest of the migrant workers as practicing acts of socialism demonstrates the superiority of socialism for the exploited and disenfranchised. For example, Ma continually reveals her capacity to help other people by giving them food even when she knows she doesn’t have enough to spare. The only time that Ma ever acts selfishly is when she is making stew and must reject the pleas of hungry children because she knows there is not even enough to satisfy the hunger of her own family. Similarly, Tom and Al put aside their own needs to assist the Wilsons in fixing their car. What lies beneath these seemingly small, perhaps even insignificant actions, is the far greater idea that everybody is connected and that helping others is ultimately beneficial to one’s self. The migrant farmers and the lower classes in the novel are forced to create a society that is dependent on internal harmony, a harmony that is dependent on co-operation and not competition. It is almost impossible to imagine replacing the migrants with a group of bankers or captains of industry in the scene Steinbeck describes here: “huddled together, they shared their lives, their food and the things they hoped for in the new country… In the evening a strange thing happened the twenty families became one family”(249). The workers’ dependence upon harmony and the understanding that everyone is part of a larger family becomes increasingly impossible the more insulated the individual becomes from others and the more independence one’s social status allows. Once a person loses that kind of human contact it is far too easy to also forget such things as empathy and charity. Concerned with profit and property aquisition, capitalists tend to lose sight of the importance of generosity and compassion. Warren French touches upon this loss when he states that Steinbeck symbolizes the evil of corporate intrusion into farming “in a description of the driver of a tractor that is plowing up the tenants’ farms for the remote and untouchable city corporation” (49). French is referring to Steinbeck’s description of the driver as alienated from the farmers both physically and spiritually. His equipment dehumanizes him to the point where he looks like a robot and he is spiritually detached from a job that requires him to destroy the lives of others in order to secure a paycheck of his own. However, French doesn’t go far enough in identifying the farmer’s significance in Steinbeck’s socialist symbolism. The image of the robotic tractor driver who trades in his compassion for a paycheck signifies not just the evils of corporate farming but the entire capitalist mindset. That tractor driver is the mirror image of the Joads. Both have been systematically disenfranchised by big business. Both are forced into a position of relying on others to help them, a system of dependence that ensures the reproduction of capitalism. By creating a situation in which people must take care of themselves by abandoning basic principles, capitalism succeeds in strengthening its primary thesis that money is everything. The Joads refuse to be sucked so easily into the system; however, the tractor driver continues to move farther away from ever understanding the lesson that comes from being huddled together with twenty other families. The primary point is that the tractor driver will never actually become a captain of industry who doesn’t need to rely on others, but he has been successfully assimilated into believing upward mobility is possible. It is this element of capitalism that Steinbeck finds most destructive. In fact, Steinbeck compares the institution of industry to a prison.As the novel opens, Tom Joad has just been released from the state prison and his personality is decidedly different from what it will become by the end of the book. Tom at first is presented as cynical and detached and, above all, interested only in self-preservation. The point of prison, of course, is not just to punish a perpetrator for a crime but to inculcate within the inmate the desire to never experience a loss of freedom again. Being locked away from all the things that make freedom worthwhile is an efficient method for making one appreciate the finer points of economic independence. Once released from prison, all Tom Joad wants is to enjoy life again. He is the individualistic type who will put himself first in all things; in other words, the perfect capitalist (Moore). Engendering that selfish and safe desire is the hallmark of capitalism; a happy and distracted worker is less likely to question the validity of the inequitable distribution of wealth. The same principle applies to both the tractor driver and Tom Joad at the novel’s outset as well as various other characters in the interposed chapters. The physical description of the tractor driver as a robot leaves undermines his own conviction that he will break out of his own prison. On the other hand, Tom Joad’s evolution is Steinbeck’s way of showing that the desired and necessary component of selfishness in the service of the capitalist ideology can be challenged and overcome. When Tom first arrives home, he finds his house abandoned and learns from Jim Casy that his family’s land was repossessed by the banks and its inhabitants forced to leave. It is this sudden confrontation with the reality of life outside of prison that forces Tom to confront his own isolation and selfishness. Over the course of the novel, Tom Joad becomes the personification of Steinbeck’s belief that arriving at class consciousness is the key to change, in the absence of outright revolution. Jim Casy’s erratic appearances may represent the real difference between the tractor driver and Tom Joad. Perhaps, Steinbeck suggests, if the guy on the tractor could be exposed to the ideas of Casy as Joad was, his future might be different. Steinbeck’s implicit message is that his novel could be a substitute for Jim Casy. The arrival at class consciousness becomes complete for Tom in the sequence outside the work camp. Tom learns from Casy the political value of cooperation as he begins to understand that there will always be more laborers than owners and that the key to recreating a system that is more fair and equitable lies in uniting the migrant workers against the owners. This understanding is cemented by the pointless death of Casy at the hands of the police. Tom learns the valuable lesson that the only way the working class will ever get a fair shake is by organizing. Tom finally shrugs off any last remaining vestige of his misplaced belief in the individual and commits himself to extending his interest beyond his family and friends and any immediate strangers to include all those who are being exploited by the owners. Tom at last comes to understand that “[the] wilderness (contemplation and passivity) is not a true joining of one’s soul to that of all men; only in social unity and action can this be achieved” (Steinbeck 76). In other words, Tom Joad finally reaches that point where theories, abstractions and ideals no longer have any meaning. He appears to have accepted that it is only through actions that men and women can improve their social conditions. In light of Steinbeck’s call for practical action among the working classes, the criticism that the novel is merely socialist propaganda is highly misplaced. Rahter, the novel suggests that the only ideology that is valid is the one that endorses the simple act of looking out for everybody. Proponents of capitalism and socialism both make that claim; Steinbeck’s book is a call for them both to move beyond theory and into practice. Technology may have advanced exponentially and the cultural landscape of America may have changed considerably since John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, but the socio-economic conditions in America remain inequitable and punitive for the lower-classes. Wealth is situated in the hands of an elite minority and the worker has even less power to control and shape his own destiny than he did during the Great Depression. In the opening decade of the 21st century, real wages are roughly at the same state they were during the early 1930s. Contributing to the problem is that most Americans think they have more buying power because they have more things and a better lifestyle now, an erroneous assumption as most purchases today are made on credit. In fact, the average American owes more debt today than the farmers of the Dust Bowl did at the onset of the Depression. The Joads’ story is the story of lower-class America in our time as much as in Steinbeck’s own; its call for class consciousness remains relevant. Works CitedDorn, Jacob H., ed. Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. French, Warren. The Social Novel at the End of an Era. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1966.Johnson, Claudia Durst. Understanding the Grapes of Wrath: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999. Marx, Karl. Karl Marx: The Essential Writings. Ed. Frederic L. Bender. 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986. Moore, R. “The Grapes of Wrath: The Character of Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath.” The Grapes of Wrath: Text and Criticism. Ed. Peter Lisca. New York: Viking Press, 1972.Steinbeck, John. “The Grapes of Wrath.” Twentieth-Century American Literary Naturalism: An Interpretation. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982. 65-82. Zirakzadeh, Cyrus Ernesto. “John Steinbeck on the Political Capacities of Everyday Folk: Moms, Reds, and Ma Joad’s Revolt.” Polity 36.4 (2004): 595+.
Authors often use religious allusions to further the significance of a novel. It is when the reader recognizes and understands these influences that the importance of the novel can be truly understood. In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck utilizes numerous Christian references to further the underlying meaning of his novel. Steinbeck’s use of intricate methods to portray Casy as a Christ figure, Tom Joad as a disciple, the family as a larger “family” of humanity, and the Joads’ as the Israelites facilitate the novel’s Christian influence. Initially, Steinbeck casts the character played by Jim Casy as a Christ-like figure. Jim Casy travels along with the Joad family on an expedition from Oklahoma to California. Casy, an ex-minister who has relinquished his former Christian beliefs, is now strictly practicing abstinence. “Casy’s new ‘religion’ is based on love and a belief in each person’s soul as well as an all-inclusive soul, the ‘Holy Spirit’ of humanity” (Stanley Ed. 107). Jim Casy’s initials, J.C., also serve as confirmation of his character’s function as a symbol of Jesus Christ. Even Casy’s actions correspond to those of Christ: he is first introduced in the novel after evading society by escaping into the wilderness for a time of solitude and reflection. This seclusion parallels Christ’s retreat from the world before beginning his mission to convert society. Also, Casy accepts the deputy’s thrashing and receives punishment for Tom’s actions. Jim’s altruistic scuffle inevitably positions him as a leader in the fight against oppression. His life is sacrificed for his selfless actions, and his final words resemble those of Christ in his final hours: “You fellas don’ know what you’re doin'” (Stanley Ed. 107). Casy’s actions indirectly persuade Tom Joad to follow him along the same selfless path. Casy’s individual identity is a true expression of a greater self, although this self-realization causes him to be condemned by society, and is also the reason for his crucifixion. Steinbeck’s novel also resembles the New Testament in its language and imagery, and in the principles it portrays. Jim Casy’s teachings, along with his unselfishness, recall Christ’s wisdom and his crucifixion. This perspective furthers the similarities between the twelve Joads and the twelve apostles. Connie is representative of a Judas figure who abandons the family for money. Although the Judeo-Christian allusions are extremely compelling, the novel is not an exercise in holiness. Early in the novel, Steinbeck conveys a definite anti-religious mood, which is elucidated when Casy clarifies why he has turned away from his ministry. Furthermore, those who sermonize on sin and damnation in the migrant camps are regarded with disparagement (Stanley Ed. 107,113,118). Jesus started his mission following a retreat of isolation in the wilderness for a period of reflection and sanctification. He enters the novel after Christ’s similar withdrawal, and informs Tom that he “went off alone, an’ I sat and figured” (Shockley 267). Subsequently, as Tom converges with Casy in the protestor’s tent, Casy reveals that he has “been a-goin’ into the wilderness like Jesus to try to find out sumpin” (Shockley 267). Steinbeck is undoubtedly aware of this parallel. Also, much like Jesus Christ, Casy has discarded an obsolete religion, and is currently in the process of substituting it with a contemporary gospel. In the opening scene, Jim and Tom reminisce about earlier days, when Casy advocated the old religion, thereby illustrating the prior concept of transgression and fault. Presently, however, Casy explicates his denunciation of a religion that he felt corrupted him with its emphasis on natural human desires. The Adam of the Fall is approaching exorcism via these new indulgences (Shockley 267). Tom Joad is cast as a disciple of the Christ figure, Jim Casy. Steinbeck’s compelling touch is shown when Tom expresses his desire for Casy’s role. With this catharsis, John Steinbeck introduces allegory; he does not succumb to its unyielding eminence, because Tom is, in essence, nothing like Casy. Tom Joad is far more sadistic, far more filled with anger. Having been tutored by Casy, however, Tom may ultimately prove even more triumphant as a realistic missionary. One may notice that if Casy symbolizes Christ, Tom should be identified with Saint Paul – the practical, harsh organizer. The metaphorical connection through which Tom is transformed and learns to take responsibility is profoundly realized, and abounds with importance. The significance is not merely justified as a technical inevitability, but because it is evidence of Casy’s veracity as a man and a teacher. The parallels to Saint Paul would be mere technical details if they were not felt so intensely (Levent 104). Following Casy’s brutal death, Tom takes it upon himself to perform the role of Casy’s disciple. Tom has been educated by his mentor, and now he assumes his mentor’s responsibilities. Two of Christ’s disciples were named Thomas, and many of the disciples selected by Christ were culled from individuals much like the Joads. Ma Joad asks Tom what should happen if he loses his life, and he replies in the manner taught to him by Casy:”Then is don’ matter. Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where – wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build – why I’ll be there. See? God, I’m talkin’ like Casy.” (Shockley 269)Steinbeck uses the Joad family to symbolize something far greater. The Joads encounter numerous adversities, deprivations, and casualties, and towards the end of the story almost cease to exist. Nonetheless, the tone of the novel is buoyant. This encouraging feeling is derived from “the growth of the Joad family as they begin to realize a larger group consciousness” (Stanley Ed. 110). The maturity of this theme can be seen predominantly in Ma Joad, beginning with her desire to keep the family close. Ma exclaims in the last chapter, “Use’ ta be the fambly was fust. It ain’t so now. It’s anybody. Worse off we get, the more we got to do” (Stanley Ed. 110). The foremost symbol in Steinbeck’s work is the family, which stands for “the greater ‘family’ of humanity” (Stanley Ed. 113). The Joads are at the heart of the powerful characteristics of the novel; nevertheless, they exemplify human vigor and frailty. Hazards in nature and human civilization impair the family, and they endure financial and environmental disasters, just as all mankind must. Near the end of the novel, the Joads begin to understand that they are members of a larger family. The land is a representation of individual distinctiveness; what the Joad family suffers when they lose the home farm is a loss of identity, which they strive to recover during their expedition, and in California. Pa Joad, in particular, loses his strength after the Joads are “tractored off” his family’s land (Stanley Ed. 113). After their loss, he must relinquish his influence in the family to Ma (Stanley Ed. 110, 113). The symbol of family as a greater family of humanity is furthered as the Joads continue westward towards California. The Joads encounter the Wilsons, who help them bury their deceased patriarch by unselfishly supplying a quilt. Also, as the Joads arrive in Hooverville, Ma Joad helps feed the starving children of the camp, even though her own family barely has enough to eat. An comparison can be made between the Joads’ journey from the desiccated Southwest to California and the movement of the Children of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. The Joads, like the Children of Israel, arrive in a region overflowing with milk and honey; however, the contemporary Canaanites annihilate their surplus animals, fruits, and vegetables, while the Joads become sick from starvation. California, therefore, becomes the boondocks, and the Joads are obligated to deviate indefinitely, the land of promise remaining an illusion. Also, the resentment the Joads meet with during their journey across U.S. Highway 66 from the administrator of the roadside camp and the filling station associates at the desert border recalls the way in which the Israelites were treated by tribes such as the Amorites and Midianites. The raggedy gentleman at the roadside camp, along with the dejected Okie and his son at the Colorado River, satisfy the responsibility of the spies who desire information regarding the land of Canaan. Like the spies, these informants validate the fortune of the land in which the Joads are arriving, and attempt to warn them about the harsh treatment which they should anticipate. Nevertheless, the Joads do not imitate the performance of the Israelites: “With nothing but misery behind them” (Crockett 110), the Joads are obligated to move onward, into greater wretchedness (Crockett 110). John Steinbeck’s complex presentation of Jim Casy as a Christ-like figure, Tom Joad as a disciple, the family as a larger “family” of humanity, and the Joads’ as the Israelites help contribute to the novel’s Christian influence. The Christian foundation of this novel furthers the reader’s understanding of the unimaginable hardships the Joads and other families endured during the Depression. Sometimes, we learn, individuals may have to sacrifice their home, their identity, or even sacrifice themselves for the common good. Works CitiedCrockett, H Kelly. “The Bible and The Grapes of Wrath.” A Casebook on The Grapes of Wrath. Ed. Agnes McNeill Donohue. NY: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1968.Hinton, Rebecca. “Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.” The Explicator Vol 56. 2 (Winter 1998). 30 November 2004 http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=0&did=00000002681734T&SrchMode=1&sid=3&Fmt=3&Vln.html.Levent, Howard. The Novels of John Steinbeck: A Critical Study. University of Missouri Press, 1974.Shockley, Martin. “Christian symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath.” Steinbeck and His Critics. Ed. E.W. Tedlock, Jr. and C.V. Wicker. University of New Mexico Press, 1957.Stanley, Deborah A, ed. Novels for Students. Vol 7. London: Gale Group, 1999.
Historians have noted that works of literature often adopt the mood of the times in which they were written. It is thus not surprising that The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck in the desperate nadir of the Great Depression, appears to be a novel of righteous anger and ably communicates the gloomy depths of human sorrow. However, Steinbeck has also interlaced the storyline with threads of cautious optimism and subtle hope. The Grapes of Wrath is not only an expression of the struggle of the dispossessed Okies and Arkies in California, but also a testament to the power and resilience of the human spirit everywhere. To accomplish this goal, Steinbeck imbues the most depressing objects with an aura of optimism, uplifts the utmost tragedies with the greatest results, and has the worst events reveal the greatest character traits.Steinbeck’s hopeful symbolism is apparent early on in the novel before the reader has even been introduced to all the main characters. The author describes a concrete highway that was “edged with a mat of tangled, broken, dry grass, and the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog’s coat.” (19) This jungle by the highway represents the confusion that has enmeshed the nation. In this context, an otherwise pitiful turtle becomes an optimistic symbol, as it embodies the ability of humans to struggle on against adversity. It is able to deflect the barley beards and clover burrs just like people brush aside their fears. It crawls up the steep embankment even though for every two feet it covers it slips back one. When a red ant crawls onto its skin, it defends itself by retreating into its shell just as people seek protection in difficult times. Finally, when the turtle is almost crushed by the truck, it is unfazed and continues to crawl in the dust. Steinbeck’s message is that although the human spirit can be battered and threatened, it will keep striving toward a distant goal beyond the horizon. This concept is reiterated again toward the end of the novel when Uncle John is given the task of burying Rose of Sharon’s stillborn baby. As he sets the baby’s makeshift coffin afloat in the river, he says, “Go on down now, an’ lay in the street. Maybe they’ll know then.” (572) These words transform the dead fetus from a rotting piece of flesh into a powerful object that has the potential to provoke change. People, upon seeing such a ghastly sight, will be motivated to band together and fight against the evil forces that have indirectly nipped a young life in its bud. That Steinbeck chooses to allude to these results instead of simply making the dead baby into another example of premature death caused by the Depression is significant. It confirms his firm belief in the staunch stance of the great “we” against an often hostile, inimical world.The disastrous events in The Grapes of Wrath serve not only to bring a tear to the reader’s eye, but also to demonstrate that in the darkest of times there will be a shaft of hope. For example, Granma dies shortly after the Joads settle down to camp with Ivy and Sairy Wilson. Though Granma’s death represents a great loss to the family, her death also brings the Joads and Wilsons into a close relationship that results from the common experience of tragedy. The alliance allows for mutual support–physically because the Wilsons help carry the load on the Joads’ truck and spiritually because the two families provide each other with needed support and comfort. Another gloomy circumstance with ultimately beneficial consequences is the burning of the Hooverville that the Joads enter when they first arrive in California. The depressing situation is alleviated when the Joads find their way into a government camp that gives them a degree of voice and respect they have never before been accorded. Ma opines, “An’ now I ain’t ashamed. These folks is our folks.” (395) When the Joads jump out of the figurative frying pan, they find not the fire that burned down the Hooverville but the cool relaxation of running water and flushable toilets. Later on in the story, the loss of another family member, Tom Joad, strikes the family. However, Tom’s parting words are not full of sadness but determination and hope: “I’ll be ever’where–wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.” (537) Tom affirms that although he will lose the company of his family, he will gain honor, self-respect and a sense of direction from joining a righteous fight. Likewise, Ma comes to accept that the loss of her son is necessary for the world to gain another fighter for the liberation of the Dust Bowl migrants from the business interests. The author again demonstrates the power of the human drive to fight injustice.The optimism in The Grapes of Wrath is not restricted to symbols and positive consequences–the worst events also cause personal transformations for the better in people. For instance, Mae, the middle-aged hamburger stand manager, must deal with the dusty and sweaty Dust Bowl migrants who arrive in an overburdened car and offer a dime for fifteen-cent bread. Initially, Mae’s frugality makes her reluctant to sell the hungry travelers food at a loss. Then Mae realizes the plight of the man and his boys and her maternal instincts and kindness manifest themselves as she sells the fifteen-cent bread and two pieces of nickel candy for eleven cents. Because Steinbeck portrays Mae’s rising to help another human being in need, he emphasizes the power of human spirit to effect changes no matter how small they may be. This sentiment is confirmed by the silent approval of the truck drivers, who leave Mae fifty-cent tips. A main character to undergo transformation is Jim Casy, who decides to sacrifice his own liberty and go to jail to protect Tom from the consequences of his tripping the sheriff’s deputy. Casy explains: “Somebody got to take the blame. I got no kids. They’ll jus’ put me in jail, an’ I ain’t doin’ nothin’ but set aroun’.” (342) Casy’s selfless sacrifice again highlights the ability of people to rise to any challenge. Finally, Rose of Sharon sheds her persona of crankiness and worry over her pregnancy when she agrees to use her breast milk to feed a dying old man. This act of generosity transforms her into a truly mature woman whose capacity for giving is far beyond what one could expect of her at her age. That Steinbeck chooses to end the novel on a scene that delineates the hardiness of the human spirit is no coincidence.By demonstrating through symbols, events, and characters that genuine good will prevail over evil and seeming hopelessness, Steinbeck uplifts the novel from simply being a tale of anguish to a story with a strident message of hope and confidence in the human spirit. Thus this tale is not only another perspective on the gloomy depths of the Great Depression but a timeless testament to the ability of people of overcome hardship and take on any challenge. It is often noted that respected and eminent people often have difficult childhoods, for greatness comes from tragedy. Likewise, America emerged from the Depression ready to assume its role as a world leader championing democracy and human rights. The more fermented the grapes of wrath are by the accumulation of anguish and despair, the finer the wine produced.
Chapter Twenty-Five is central to John Steinbeck¹s The Grapes of Wrath. Besides containing the title of the book, this chapter clearly, forcefully, and elegantly drives home Steinbeck¹s central messagethe injustice of life in the Depression-era American west. Without doubt one of Steinbeck¹s strongest attributes as a writer is the way he makes the reader feel his words. Chapter Twenty-Five is an excellent example of this technique. Through his overall structure, graphic appeal to the senses, and approachable, rhythmic sentences, Steinbeck allows the reader to experience chapter Twenty-Five, and in doing so gives the reader no choice but to connect with his theme.Steinbeck presents the reader with two main contrasting sections joined by a third transitional one. The first, which portrays the verdant bounty of nature, is juxtaposed with the second, which portrays human suffering. Steinbeck¹s point is simple and ironic; “men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits can be eaten” (448). How Steinbeck chooses to structure his point is likewise uncomplicated, yet incredibly effective. He simply gives the reader the first sectionverdant crops, and contrasts it with the second sectionhungry humans. This manner of presenting the information is strong because it allows the reader to discover the point for himself or herself by implying the question “what is wrong with this picture?”Chapter Twenty-Five is alive with vivid adjectives that bring the reader into the picture Steinbeck paints. It is accurate to say “paints” because Steinbeck uses color quite liberally. The palette is initially dominated by light pastels, white, pink, yellow, and particularly green. These are the colors of spring; they suggest growth and fertility. One can almost taste the “pale green lettuce” (445), or the “gray-greenartichoke plants” (446). Later, when the chapter turns to less pleasant subject matter, Steinbeck employs harsher colorsprimarily black and red. The reader is disgusted by the “red cherries” into which “yellowjackets buzz”, leaving nothing but “black shreds” (447). Other adjectives have a similar animating effect. Steinbeck describes the crops and land with such words as “fragrant,” “soft,” “level,” “fertile,” “sweet,” “tender,” and “round” (445-446). Paralleling the above change in color, Steinbeck switches to adjectives like “canned,” “hot,” “hungry,” “dumped,” and “heavy” (447-449) to match his shift in subject. All these descriptive words create a stark and tangible image for the reader, allowing him or her to feel the difference between the two sections.Steinbeck further makes the chapter felt by means of his powerful images. The dominant image is that of crops. Fruits and vegetables are mentioned forty-five times in the chapter, with ten references to grapes alone. Whether it be the “fragrant pink and white waters in a shallow sea” (445) that are the fruit blossoms, or the “grapes of wrathgrowing heavy for the vintage” (449) in the souls of the people, the plants and the land on which they grow are described again and again. Besides providing a powerful unifying element to the chapter, Steinbeck¹s use of the land and its products as the chief image connects with the reader. Steinbeck realizes that humans are able to relate to nature; by setting down some of the most poignant natural imagery ever written Steinbeck takes advantage of this characteristic. For example, Steinbeck states that “the decay [of human suffering] spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land” (448). Who can argue against Steinbeck¹s thesis of social inequality when Nature herself seems to be in support?In addition to his masterful manipulation of the senses, Steinbeck uses deceptively simple sentences and rhythmic constructions to further draw the reader into his idea. Typically, Steinbeck does nothing to confuse the reader. His sentences, like his subject matter, are nobly ordinary. The ease with which the chapter may be read does much to enhance the reader¹s connection to Steinbeck¹s theme. But the craftsman does not stop there. To help the reader move his or her eyes across the page Steinbeck utilizes poetic devices such as alliteration, consonance, and repetition: “five dollars for forty fifty pound boxes” (447), “trees pruned and sprayed, orchards cultivated” (447), “the food must rot; must be forced to rot” (449). This “running” effect is echoed in Steinbeck¹s sentence structure. The sentences flow into one another, pulling the reader with them. To accomplish this the author uses the word “and” prolifically, often at the beginning of a sentence, and connects many phrases with commas or semicolons. The reader cannot help but be swept through this chapter, which can almost be described as a journey down Steinbeck¹s fast-moving stream of consciousness. However, Steinbeck draws the reader subtly, all under the illusion, perhaps pretense, of objective social realism. The following passage exemplifies his technique well.”The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the hungry there in a growing wrath” (449). The last sentence is worth mentioning as a linguistic device in, and of, itself. By the time the reader arrives at it, he or sheif the reader is at all humanis hopelessly under Steinbeck¹s spell. The reader has seen, felt, and smelled the bounty of the land and empathized with the suffering people, essentially seeing reality as Steinbeck wants him or her to see it. Steinbeck has slipped the hook deep into the reader¹s proverbial gullet; now with the final sentence he sets it: “in the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage” (449). Using almost every device he has employed throughout the chapter, crop imagery, poetic constructions, and forward momentum, Steinbeck sums up the chapter by revealing how he wants the reader to feel. What does the irony of verdant crops plus human suffering equal? Wrath. Growing, heavy wrath.
The indefatigable spirit of unity emerges as the one unfailing source of strength in John Steinbeck¹s migrant worker classic The Grapes of Wrath. As the Joad family¹s world steadily crumbles, hope in each other preserves the members¹ sense of pride, of courage, and of determination. A solitary man holds a grim future; with others to love and be loved by, no matter how destitute one is materially, life is rich. This selflessness is not immediate, however; over the course of the book several characters advance from affected altruism to unconscious magnanimity.A recently paroled Tom Joad makes his first encounter with altruism as he attempts to hitchhike with a trucker whose employer has outlawed the practice. When the trucker points out the “No Riders” (11) sign his truck carries, Tom replies, “But sometimes a guy¹ll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.¹” (11) Steinbeck has cleverly cornered the man by utilizing a tool often implemented in Depression-era literature: the classification of the guilty rich as anonymous, thus convincing the trucker that he is “not one whom any rich bastard could kick around.” (11) Still, this generous gesture is caused by shame and guilt, not by an independent moral factor.The notion of a collective spirit is explored when Tom meets the former preacher, Casy. Casy has given up classical religion because it lacks pragmatism and overemphasizes escapism. In a thesis statement that is repeated several times, he says, “Maybe it¹s all men and women we love; maybe that¹s the Holy Speritthe human speritMaybe all men got one big soul and ever¹body¹s a part of.¹” (33) At this early point, though, Tom remains skeptical. “Joad¹s eyes dropped to the ground, as though he could not meet the naked honesty in the preacher¹s eyes. You can¹t hold no church with idears like that.¹” (33)Sharing is developed more when Tom, taking Casy under his wing, runs across an old friend, Muley. Though a vagrant, he has freshly killed rabbits in possession. Steinbeck shows the crossover to unconscious unity as Casy asks Muley if he¹ll share: “I ain¹t got no choice in the matterwhat I mean, if a fella¹s got somepin to eat and another fella¹s hungrywhy, the first fella ain¹t got no choice.¹” (66)Banding together in organized efforts is an elusive goal rarely achieved in the novel. Characters dream of unions at several points: “If we was all mad the same way, Tommythey wouldn¹t hunt nobody down¹” (104) Ma says to calm an irate Tom, and is later reiterated by Tom in reference to a strike: “Well, s¹pose them people got together an¹ says, Let em rot.¹ Wouldn¹t be long fore the price went up, by God!¹” (336) These ideas are shot down as unattainable, and remain unrealized until the Joads enter the self-governed commune. Synergy is the main theme there; Tom puts it best while digging a ditch: “A pick is a nice tool, if you don¹ fight it. You an¹ the pick workin¹ together.¹” (407) This strikes a contrast with the description of the tractors plowing the land: “The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved and hated, it had no prayers or curses.” (49) Just as people must work together, humans and the land must exist in harmony to survive.The movement towards unconscious altruism occurs on the trip west. Meeting the Wilson family, Ma reassures them that their tagging along “won¹t be no burden. Each¹ll help each, an¹ we¹ll all git to California.¹The relationship was plain.” (202) Still, at this young stage there must be reciprocity to justify the altruism. When Ma reveals that she sat alone with the dead body of her mother through the night, she explains simply, “The fambly hadda get acrost.¹” (312) She made a sacrifice without thought, carrying out a deed that caused her nothing but pain but was necessary for the betterment of others.The final scene is the ultimate in sincere charity. Rose of Sharon is selfish throughout most of the trip, especially when it comes to milk for her unborn baby. When Winfield needs milk to regain strength, she pouts, “I ain¹t had no milk. I oughta have some.” (543) After delivering a stillborn baby, the family happens upon a starving man. She doesn¹t need to be prodded into breast-feeding him; “the two woman [Ma and Rose] looked deep into each other” (618) is all the interaction necessary. Her symbolic gesture of looking past her own worries to aid another, of giving of herself to inject another with life, of placing the nutrients designed for a relative into the body of a stranger, is a fitting way to end the book. That she “smiled mysteriously” (619) at this action means she has gained the knowledge Casy spoke of at the beginning of the book, proving that even the most selfish have room for redemption.
Depicting a world where the struggle to survive is elemental, two incisive narratives emerged to describe what life was like during the Dust Bowl. Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time comprises a non-fiction description of life following actual figures and stories of people who had to live through one of the toughest times in history. John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath offers a fictional depiction of what people would have experienced, created a story of a family that had to transform their lives to adapt to what the Dust Bowl did to their lives in their struggle to find jobs and money. Both of these works paint a realistic picture of what life was like in the Dust Bowl, in that they both comparatively included a unique plot which followed multiple families in The Worst Hard Time and one family in The Grapes of Wrath, used figurative language to emphasize certain points that were consistent in life during the Dust Bowl, and created a clear tone that connected with the reader on a personal and emotional level.
These texts both employ a unique structure within each of their stories that provided multiple perspectives on life during the Dust Bowl. In The Worst Hard Time, there were multiple instances when the story would jump between different families that had actually lived through the Dust Bowl. Egan stated in an interview that the The Worst Hard Time was the kind of story in which “[There was] no social security, no accurate forecast…They ate things like tumbleweeds – salted and canned – or roadkill, cooked over an open fire” (Houghton Miffin Company 3). Egan is describing their scenario in a very drastic yet accurate way, giving a fictional representation of -what the Dust Bowl was like. In The Grapes of Wrath, there was a clear distinction of how there was a fictional aspect for a majority of the story, following the one family of Tom Joad and their struggles during the Dust Bowl, along with inner chapters within the story that included real information and background of the actual times of the Dust Bowl, of which Steinbeck commented on in an interview that, “You say the inner chapters were counterpoint and so they were – that they were pace changers and they were that too but the basic purpose was to hit the reader below the belt…Open him up [to] things on an intellectual level which he would not or could not receive unless he were opened up” (New York Times 2). Steinbeck includes a story of a family living through a realistic scenario during the Dust Bowl, along with these inner chapters which provided the reader with more understanding of these times.
In these two texts, Egan and Steinbeck included many instances of innovative figurative language that emphasized certain points to the reader and gave new perspectives on certain concepts. At one point in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck writes “The tractors came over the roads and into the fields, great crawlers moving like insects” (35). Within this quote, Steinbeck is using a simile to describe the tractors that had caused people to leave their homes during the dust bowl, by comparing the way they walked with insects. He also uses metaphor to compare important concepts to the story, for example, “He was a part of the monster, a robot in the seat” (Steinbeck 35). In this quote, the tractor driver is being compared to a robot, which is a part of this monster, giving the reader a an understanding of how these drivers had to do things that made them seem like monsters, but it was how they got paid during these difficult times. There were also many examples of figurative language in The Worst Hard Time, as Egan wrote “[Ruth’s Baby] cried, coughed, and cried” (196). In this quote, Egan is using anaphora and creates an emotional ethos appeal with it to convey to the reader the situation of Ruth’s baby being born during these dust storms that caused it to be very sick. Along with that, Egan wrote, “The Osteen Dugout broiled in the heat…the temperature rose to 105 degrees, the highest the mercury land had ever been in that early year” (236). In this quote, Egan is using metaphor to compare the land to the planet Mercury, which is known for its intense heat, to emphasize the traumatic conditions during the Dust Bowl.
Within both of these accounts, there is a clear and concise tone that is conveyed to the reader that creates a strong emotional appeal to the situation of these people living through these grueling and punishing times. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck creates a tone of Hopeful in that throughout the story the main goal of the Joad family was to move to California and all get great jobs picking fruit and living in their own house, away from the struggles of the Dust Bowl. For example, Ma says, “Tom, I hope things is all right in California…I seen the han’bills fellas pass out, an’ high wages and all; an’ I seen how they want folks to come out an’ pick grapes and oranges an’ peaches…That’d be nice work” (Steinbeck 90). This quote is one of the many consistent examples of the hope that is portrayed from Ma regarding their future in California. For his part, Egan creates a thoroughly morose tone in that, across the entire story, there were consistent struggles from every perspective followed, as the families of this story gave their own non-fictional depictions of daily life during these taxing times. For example, “The reporter asked her why she didn’t leave. “I’d like to,” the woman said. “But I can’t.” She said the land was all she had; she thought she would die in a city, not knowing anyone and unsure how to feed herself” (Egan 237). In this quote, it is clear how this sad, morose tone is presented in that people were unsure of their futures, having to deal with these deadly storms and not being able to leave due to poverty during these Great Depression times also.
In both of these accounts, Egan and Steinbeck both compiled thorough stories that depicted the dust bowl with unique plots, figurative language, and tone. Their stories had evinced a fair share of similarities in writing style and plot design, and differentiated in tone and perspective. The Grapes of Wrath offered a fictional representation of the Dust Bowl with the life of one family written out in their hopes for survival. The Worst Hard Time gave a non-fictional true story of multiple different families allowing us to see what life was really like during the Dust Bowl, looking through the eyes of those who actually lived through it. Steinbeck and Egan had multiple similar characteristics with use of figurative language and rhetorical devices with consistent metaphors and similes that provided an emphasis on the comparisons that were made to give the reader a more concise understanding. With its tone, The Grapes of Wrath established a consistent hopeful aura to see an optimistic future, and The Worst Hard Time presented a morose tone established clearly pessimistic feelings.
In both The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath, color is used in order to reflect the atmosphere or mood. This allows Fitzgerald and Steinbeck to illustrate the events in a more sophisticated style and intensify the clarity of actions; therefore allowing the audience to envisage the episodes in a very refined manner. Whilst the use color is equally effective in both novels, it’s function in ‘The Great Gatsby’ tends to be mainly for materialistic features – in order to reinforce the theme of conspicuous consumption throughout the book, yet in ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ color is used more to describe the atmosphere or the time of day, rather than objects. Nevertheless, certain colors (notably white and grey) still have alike connotations and create a similar mood in both of the novels.
The purpose of color in ‘The Great Gatsby’ is often for describing objects and highlighting certain aspects of their appearance. The use of color in this way strengthens the theme of materialism and highlights the shallow nature of the characters and particularly Nick – as it is he who narrates the tale and constantly uses color in his descriptions. One of the key examples is the use of the colors gold and silver, which often represent wealth and prestige, as at one of Gatsby’s parties it’s noted that the turkeys are ‘bewitched to a dark gold’. This indicates his great wealth, as it’s implied that his richness is so excessive to the extent that it’s almost magical – his money effectively transforms his food into gold. Gatsby is also said to possess ‘golden and silver slippers’ which again hints at his sophisticated bourgeois lifestyle, as even the smallest, most inane objects that one would not usually associate with wealth, are still a symbol of his affluence. In contrast, the use of color in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is less focused on physical objects, and more concentrated on the description of the surroundings. For example, Steinbeck uses different colors in order to capture the mood at different stages of the day; in the morning ‘the sun was as red as ripe new blood’. This provides the reader with a sense of hope and conveys a sort of freshness for the sunrise, as a new day often signifies promise. Nevertheless the use of the color red may also be interpreted as a warning sign, and therefore creates a sense of uncertainty, as it’s unclear as to what danger may lay ahead in the course of the day. The landscape of Oklahoma is often described with golds and yellows; ‘the yellowing dusty afternoon light put a golden color on the land’. This conveys a sense of warmth and comfort but it could also be viewed that the reference to gold links to money – as if the land is reminding the reader of how rich, lush and profitable it used to be.
Despite the difference in use of colors in each of the novels, both Fitzgerald and Steinbeck use certain colors to create similar effects. In ‘The Great Gatsby’ white is often used to reflect purity and innocence – it is normally associated with Daisy, ironically. She lives in a ‘white palace’ and when Nick first meets her and Jordan they are ‘both dressed in white’. Daisy also refers to her ‘white girlhood’ with Jordan. All of these examples hint at the supposed virtue of Daisy and the integrity of both her and Jordan.The fact that Daisy’s home is white and even her youth is white highlights her perfect, idealistic background and therefore adds to the irony of her immorality. At the end of the novel Fitzgerald suggests that all innocence is lost as on the ‘white steps’ of Gatsby’s house there remains ‘an obscene word, scrawled by some boy’. This reinforces the idea of corruption as it’s clear that the once flawless, white life of Gatsby and Daisy is now soiled. Likewise in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, white symbolizes peace and purity – as Ma imagines ‘little white houses in among orange trees’ in California. This dreamlike description highlights her faith in the American Dream as the white houses symbolize new beginnings and create an image of paradise. This shows that white has connotations of divinity and honor in both writings.
Grey is another color which has similar effects in each of the stories, as it is widely used to convey a sense of misery and emptiness. In ‘The Great Gatsby’ this color is often associated with the ‘valley of ashes’ as the Wilsons always seem to appear in a grey light. This captures the desperation of the family as their lives are overshadowed by misfortune and depression. Fitzgerald also mentions ‘grey little villages in France’ which again depicts the image of a small, gloomy town. Similarly, in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ the houses are said to be ‘grey’ and ‘paintless’ – this suggests that the neighborhood is empty and neglected due to the severe impacts of the Dust Bowl. It could even be viewed that the Valley of Ashes and America’s dustbowl of the 1930’s are linked through Fitzgerald’s and Steinbeck’s presentation of the atmosphere – as both authors effectively incorporate dark colors of grey and black to reflect the deprivation and misery of the characters and their lives.
Overall it is evident that the use of color is very effective in terms of deepening descriptions in both ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, as certain colors have alike impacts in both novels, despite the fact that their purpose is slightly different. Whilst Fitzgerald mainly incorporates color to describe physical objects, Steinbeck uses color to illustrate the atmosphere. One may interpret that this is a consequence of the main contexts of each of the novels – as the extravagant ‘Roaring 20’s’ lifestyle of the characters in Gatsby is reflected by the fact that the color description is orientated around items of wealth, yet the Joads basic lifestyle is suggested by the fact that color is only used to describe their surroundings – as they don’t really have anything else. This epitomizes the drastic difference in backgrounds between the Joads and characters such as Daisy, Tom and Gatsby.
Steinbeck’s intercalary chapters in The Grapes of Wrath have nothing to do with the Joads or other characters of the novel, but help describe the story in different terms. They are similar to poems, offering different viewpoints of the migration, and clarifying parts of the story that the reader might not understand. An excellent example of this use can be seen in chapter 21, where an examination of the attitudes of migrant Okies and the residents of California reveals the changing nature of land ownership among the changing population of California and gives greater meaning to the fierce hostility that the Joads meet in California.The first section of chapter 21 explores the plight of the Okies, who are simple people forced to leave their homes when industrial change complicates their lives. Steinbeck writes, “Their senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of the industrial life. And then suddenly the machines pushed them out and they swarmed on the highways.” This statement relates the beginning of the novel, with particular emphasis on the death of Grampa and Granma. When industrial farming hits the agrarian midwest, the Joads are forced off their land and driven to migration, deserting the house in which they have lived for so long. Before long, Grampa dies of stroke. His life is tied to the land and cannot keep up with such rapid change, and when he dies Granma is sure to follow. The paragraph continues:”The movement changed them; the highways, the camps along the road, the fear of hunger and the hunger itself, changed them. The children without dinner changed them, the endless moving changed them. They were migrants.”Steinbeck emphasizes the anguish which characterizes change in the Okies, particularly Jim Casy and Tom Joad, who will eventually form workers’ unions to rebel against landowners in California. They suffer the anguish of losing their farms and their homes, of being forced to move endlessly and painfully in search of work on someone else’s land. The anguish caused by sudden change in land ownership is a major aspect of the novel.The next section of chapter 21 offers an explanation of the hostility that the migrants meet upon arrival in California. Steinbeck describes:”Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights.”The mild people of California find in the Okies what they have yet to experience – fear and desperation. Sensing the extent to which the migrants are willing to work, the locals begin to fear for their own jobs, and most importantly, for their own property. In fearful defense, they attack the Okies as marauders who mean to destroy both populations through their desperation. This fear transforms into hostility, which reveals itself in the story through the deputies and managers who abuse and assault the Joads, as well as other migrant families in the workers’ camps. Steinbeck goes on to write:”. . .wages went down and prices stayed up. The great owners were glad and they sent out more handbills to bring more people in. And wages went down and prices stayed up. And pretty soon now we’ll have serfs again.”While the citizens of California are engulfed in fear , the business owners see opportunities to make profit off of both the migrants and the natives. The next paragraph displays the situation in which large fruit canneries drive the small farms out of business by exploiting the desperate workers. As more and more farmers are forced to sell their land, the highways become more and more crowded with migrants, not only from the midwest, but from California as well. This phenomenon only gives credence to the accusations of the natives, fearing for their jobs and their land.The final section of the chapter is an ominous paragraph which depicts the greed of the companies as the cause of conflict between the workers in California, and the inevitable cause of the companies’ downfall. The paragraph reads:”And the companies, the banks worked at their own doom and they did not know it. The fields were fruitful, and starving men moved on the roads. . . The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line. . . On the highways the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food. And the anger began to ferment.”The consolidation of land under large companies is ultimately the cause of strife among the Okies and the Californians. However, it will ultimately become a cause of strife for the companies. The fermenting anger is evident throughout the novel within conversation among the Okies, especially that which involves Jim Casy and Tom Joad. When Casy dies and Tom leaves the family to carry on his work, Steinbeck foreshadows that Tom will lead his people to unite against oppression, and this action is what most frightens the companies and banks. The ‘fermenting anger’ which Steinbeck describes also relates to the novel’s title, as grapes serve as a symbol of the migrants, and the wrath represents their anguish and hardship. The thin line between hunger and anger is broken by the changes in land ownership, and retaliation of the workers is the inevitable result.Within four pages, Steinbeck greatly clarifies and expands upon his story by examining the different emotions and reactions of his general character groups. He takes two sides of an argument and applies them to a third body rather than pit them against each other. By mastering the use of the intercalary chapter, he is able enrich his story with deeper thought and explore it outside the boundaries of his main characters. In this manner, Steinbeck is able to write a four-page chapter which holds great meaning to a 581-page novel.
“Like William Faulkner and Willa Cather, John Steinbeck wrote his best fiction about the region in which he grew up and the people he knew from boyhood…” Paul McCarthy
Steinbeck’s novels of the common people and the troubles that beset them have earned him the reputation as one of America’s greatest writers. He has employed various forms, from short story to allegory to morality plays, yet his approach is consistently realistic. Critics often feel that the realism is marred by his sentimentality, but Steinbeck’s clear, forceful writing and his sensitive treatment of his characters are considered his strengths. Granville Hicks’s 1939 review in The New Masses declared The Grapes of Wrath an exemplary proletarian novel, noting that Steinbeck’s “insight into capitalism illuminates every chapter of the book.” Yet another critic, Joseph Fontenrose is of the view that “The Grapes of Wrath is a product of Steinbeck’s own experience and direct observation; its realism is genuine.”
It is a great task to tell a story, but to tell it with the essence of the environment in which it takes place surely requires great efforts on the part of the writer. The Grapes of Wrath, one of the period’s most brilliant and innovative novels, can be read not only as fiction but as a social document of the time, a record of drought conditions, economic problems and the sharecropping life. Not separate from the fictional, this level of record is a vital aspect of it. The novel is an accurate and moving account of the mass migration during the American Depression. Steinbeck highlights the social injustice, the traditional religious beliefs, the implications of the transcendentalist belief that each person is a part of the over-soul and that individual actions can not be interpreted as right or wrong. The family as a source of strength to its members and community as a whole is another important theme of the book. The document clarifies the nature of family and small farm life and also of underlying concepts. One of the most important themes is the traditional agrarian idea of the simple rural life based on principles of natural rights. Those who live and work on the land, who pay for it with their blood, sweat and toil, own the land. Muley Graves believes this, and up to a point so do the Joads. The Joad family is a universal symbol for the need of group effort and support to accomplish the greater good for the greater number of people.
The world presented to us in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has an inexorable quality, in which, at every turn, large and invisible forces seem to operate upon vulnerable human beings. The tractors that level the farms of Oklahoma, the bankers who evict the farmers from the land, the movement of the Joad family across the country to California, the deaths that mark the family’s journey, and the rising flood that surrounds the characters in the last chapters of the novel, all make us feel the powerlessness of the individual in relation to the effects nature and the economy. To the story of Tom Joad and his family, their long- unstable and troublesome journey westward, their exhausted efforts to make a living in California, and the bitter resistance they encounter among the rich, gluttonous and selfish land owners- Steinbeck has added a large sky-blue vision of things as they actually were at the time when the novel was written. It is his notion of the over-soul, the world soul of which each individual has his modest and particular share. Jim Casy, the former preacher and future martyr, pronounces this idea: “Maybe all men got one big soul and everybody’s part of it.” That doctrine also is the philosophical basis for the famous speech that Tom Joad makes to his mother after Casy has been killed. Tom Joad is about to leave, to continue the whole struggle in hiding. His mother asks: “How’m I gonna know about you? They might kill ya an’ I wouldn’t know.” Tom laughes uneasily and says, “Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one-an’ then …then it don’t matter. Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat. I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’-I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build-why, I’ll be there. See?” (Steinbeck 385)
The Joads reject to be broken by their circumstances. They preserve their poise, nobility and self esteem, despite the trials and tribulations that befall them. Hunger, tragic death, and maltreatment by the authorities do not break their spirit. Their dignity in the face of tragedy stands in contrast to the vileness of the rich landowners and the cops that treated the migrant workers like criminals. No matter how much misfortune and degradation are heaped upon the Joads, their sense of justice, family, and honor never waver. Steinbeck believed that as long as people maintained a sense of injustice, a sense of anger against those who sought to undercut their pride in themselves , they would never lose their dignity. Tom Joad is the symbol of all the mistreated working poor who refuse to be beaten down. In order to appreciate The Grapes of Wrath as a narrative of its era, it is worthwhile to take a glimpse on the burning issues of the time in which it was written. The book is set during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Hard times were made even harder in Oklahoma and four other states when drought and poor farming methods led to the wind erosion of the topsoil. The Great Plains thus became known as “the Dust Bowl”. Almost two million tenant farmers were pushed off their land, as they were unable to pay rent to the banks that owned their farms. A third of a million agricultural workers left the Dust Bowl for California, where they believed they could live off the rich and fertile land. However, there were many more migrant farmers than jobs, allowing landowners to treat the workers very poorly. Apart from this, the thirties was a decade of staggering unemployment in America – as high as 25% in 1933, and still hovering around 19% in 1938, the year in which Steinbeck set The Grapes of Wrath. He was not reserved about assigning part of the blame for the catastrophic conditions on the “Bank,” the “Company,” and the “State”; that is, to faceless, bloodless corporate, institutional, and bureaucratic organizations, so that his novel has an extremely hard, angry edge, though it offers no practical answers for a populace displaced by the shift from agricultural to industrial economies. The migration of hundreds of thousands of people westward was a major cultural phenomenon of the 1930s. Steinbeck’s sentimental portrayal of that phenomenon is another example of The Grapes of Wrath as a form of social document.
From the very beginning of the novel we get gloomy vibes from the description of the Dust Bowl, the event which causes all that happens in the rest of the novel. We see the “earth” crusting and the “sky” getting “pale”, “pink in the red country and white in the grey country.” (Steinbeck 5) The description is like that of a wasteland, where “Men and women huddled in their houses, and they tied handkerchiefs over their noses when they went out, and wore goggles to protect their eyes (Steinbeck 6)” Later we see that the people’s almost futile struggle against the dust is exemplified in his narration of how “houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes (Steinbeck 6).”
The novel also attacks the very assumptions about private property and class difference on which the social order rests ideologically. Far from being merely racist, it presents one of the most radical critiques of the social order in all of popular — and canonical — literature. Thus, its political intervention was, is and would probably remain contradictory. We see in the novel that Joads, like many thousand other families, are forced to sell their belongings for ridiculously low prices before leaving for California. Whatever is not sold must be burned, even items of sentimental value that simply cannot be taken on the journey for the lack of space. Steinbeck is explicit about the demeaning process of the sale of the outdated possessions. As we see in chapter 9, “You’re not buying only junk, you’re buying junked lives. And more-you’ll see- you’re buying bitterness (Steinbeck 80).” The farmers have attached their sentiments to their belongings (which is quite natural), they have associated life and death with their lands and letting go of their possessions brings nothing more than sheer disappointment and utter sorrow to them. Steinbeck throws light on the helplessness of these poor farmers who are compelled to act against their will. The narrative voice expressing the farmers’ internal feelings makes the readers experience fully what they must have had gone through during migration, “you’re buying years of work, toil in the sun; you’re buying a sorrow that cant talk. But watch it mister. There’s a premium goes with this pile of junk and the bay horses-so beautiful-a packet of bitterness to grow in your house and to flower, some day. We could have saved you, but you cut us down, and soon you will be cut down and there’ll be none of us to save you (Steinbeck 81).” The sentiments of these farmers, their defenselessness against the forced pressure from the capitalist society and their ultimate plight is so vividly expressed that the reader can’t help appreciating the minute observation of the writer. We find depth of sorrow in the helpless queries of these farmers, “how can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it (Steinbeck 82).” Another example of the natural association with the land and belongings can be seen in Grandpa’s death. He couldn’t dissociate and separate himself from the place he thought he owned. Casy is very right when he says after Grandpa’s death that, “he was foolin’, all the time. I think he knowed it. An Grandpa didn’ die to-night. He died the minute you took ‘im off the place (Steinbeck 134).” And further he says, “He’s jus’ stayin’ with the lan’. He couldn’ leave it.” (Steinbeck 134). In fact, The Grapes of Wrath arguably became a site of confrontation between the thirties anti-capitalist consciousness and the American racist tradition – between manifest destiny and manifest exploitation and dispossession. Seen from a Marxist perspective, a very vivid understanding of the bitter capitalist issues of the novel can be gained. The Marxist theory of criticism examines the economic and governmental system that Steinbeck uses throughout the novel and reveals that he does indeed believe that capitalism is naturally flawed. According to Mary Klages, “marxists want to analyze social relations in order to change them, in order to alter what they see are the gross injustices and inequalities created by capitalist economic relations (Klages 126).” In The Grapes of Wrath, we see that Steinbeck confronts this ideal and reveals what he believes regarding this subject. He starts his grand confrontation with capitalism, by creating the feeling that there are two classes with a third one stuck somewhere between. In the beginning, Tom Joad wants to hitch a ride with a driver who has a “No Riders” sticker on the truck. Tom make the driver become tied and twisted in his emotions and moral feelings when saying, “sometimes a guy’ll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker…the driver considered the parts of this answer. If he refused now, not only was he not a good guy, but he was forced to carry a sticker, was not allowed to have company.” The driver is forced to believe that in order to be a “good guy,” he must put aside pride and help out a fellow man. Tom tries to make the driver realize that a man does not need to work for “some rich bastard” to be a decent person. Then again in chapter 5, more than the coming of the dust, the arrival of the bankers is as ominous event. For Steinbeck, the banks have no redeeming value. They are completely devoid of human characteristics. They are monstrosities that “breathe profits” and can never be satiated. Steinbeck explicitly states that bank is inhuman, and the bank owner with fifty thousand acres is a “monster.” “The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it (Steinbeck 32).” A bank is made by men but is something more than and separate from people, a destructive force that pursues short term profits at the expense of the land, destroying it through cotton production that drains the land of its resources. The poor farmers know not whom to blame, whom to curse and whom to “shoot” for their sufferings. The conversation between the tenant farmer and the tractor driver illustrates how diffused the controlling corporate system is. If a farmer wanted to stop the bank, he could not target one individual or even a small group; even if a farmer murdered the bank president, it would not stop the process of evictions. The people are helpless.”But where does it stop? Who can we shoot? I don’t aim to starve to death before I kill the man that’s starving me (Steinbeck 37).”
We find this same futile struggle of the farmers to locate the core point of their miseries throughout the novel. Where should they go? Whom should they blame and what course of actions should be adopted in such circumstances? Steinbeck highlights all these bitter and yet so realistic questions of those times, ultimately ending up just focusing more on the extreme endurance on the part of the sufferers. The narration turns stunningly appealing in the chapters where it highlights the voice of the farmers complaining against the capitalist system, “is a tractor bad? Is the power that turns the long furrows wrong? If this tractor were ours it would be good –not mine, but ours. If our tractor turned the long furrows of our land, it would be good. Not my land, but ours. We would love that tractor then as we have loved this land when it was ours. But this tractor does two things- it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people are drive, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this (Steinbeck 138).” The conditions for agricultural laborers during the Depression period were as bad or worse as those for southern tenant farmers and sharecroppers. While there were small permanent workforces on California farms, the vast majority of the labor was needed at harvest time, and was performed by migrant laborers who followed the crops as they matured over a six-month harvest season. By the 1930s, the pay and working conditions had both been terrible for at least sixty years. Migrant workers had few possessions, lived in substandard company housing or in makeshift camps, and had to provide their own transportation — usually ancient “jalopies.” Their children had limited or no access to schools, and they had little healthcare, making malnutrition and preventable diseases common. Steinbeck complemented the description of this hard time by illustrating the hopes of the people to earn decent wages and eventually purchase their own land. And he included historical content to illustrate the interactions between the different people who endured through life in the depression, whether they were rich or poor, landowner or tenant, or corporation or struggling small business. The consistent struggle of these workers can be summed up in Ma Joad’s words while they are bewildered at one time of their journey. She says to Tom, “you got to have patience. Why, Tom- us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people- we go on (Steinbeck 258).”
One of Steinbeck’s major messages in the novel is that socialistic revolt is the way to solve economic problems. He is of the view that people must join together for the survival of the whole humanity as he says, “This is the beginning-from ‘I’ to ‘We.’” He is of the view that, “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.” We observe that the central artistic problem is to present the universal and epical in terms of the individual and particular. Steinbeck chooses to deal with this by creating an individual, particular image of the epical experience of the dispossessed Okies by focusing a sustained attention on the experience of the Joads. The result is an organic combination of structures. The characterization of these Joads is very interesting. The structure of the novel demanded that these characters must be individualized to be credible and universalized to carry out their representative functions. Steinbeck meets these problems by making each of the Joads a specific individual and by specifying that what happens to the Joads is typical of the times The means Steinbeck uses to maintain the identities of these characters is fascinating to note. The least important Joads are given highly specific tags, i.e. Grandma’s religion, Grandpa’s vigor, Uncle John’s melancholy, and Al’s love of cars and girls. The tags are involved in events; they are not lifeless labels. Grandma’s burial violates her religion; Grandpa’s vigor ends when he leaves the land; Uncle John’s melancholy balances the family’s experience; Al helps to drive the family to California and, by marrying, continues the family. Ma, Pa, Rose of Sharon, and Tom carry the narrative, so their individuality is defined by events. Ma is the psychological and moral center of the family; Pa carries its burdens; Rose of Sharon means to ensure its physical continuity; and Tom becomes its moral conscience. On the larger scale, there is much evidence that what happens to the family is typical of the times. We get to know that ‘the whole country is moving” or about to move. The Joads meet many of their counterparts or outsiders who are in sympathy with their ordeal; these meetings reinforce the common bond of “the people’ through which the artistic purpose of the novel, namely the survival of the whole human race, is highlighted. Despite the bleakness and tragedy of the circumstances, Steinbeck shows us the essential goodness of the people involved and their willingness to help strangers, and, when given the opportunity, to work together for the common good.
There are many examples of this in the story: Muley unquestioningly shares the rabbits he has caught with Tom and Casy; the men work together to build a wall to keep back the flood waters; and strangers invite Tom to share their breakfast. The final moments of the story when Rosasharn suckles the dying stranger symbolize this most clearly. This ending of the novel is also very symbolic although some of the critics have objected to the closing scene. This episode not only has folkloristic and literary background but for Steinbeck it is an oracular image, forecasting in a moment of defeat and despair the final triumph of the people- a conditional forecast, for only if the people nourish and sustain one another will they achieve their ends. More than that the episode represents the novel’s most comprehensive thesis, that all life is one and holy, and that every man, in Casy’s words, “Jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul.” The Joads’ intense feelings of family loyalty have been transcended; they have expanded to embrace all men. Another image could have symbolized this universality to the readers of that era, but for Steinbeck, perhaps no other could have done it so effectively.
To become a classic, it is often thought that a book needs to transcend its contemporary origins and remain untouched by subsequent history. But it is more accurate to think that a book becomes a classic precisely because it keeps being informed by the most recent historical developments. A literary classic speaks directly to readers’ concerns in successive historical and cultural eras. In this sense then, The Grapes of Wrath is a prophetic novel, rooted in the economic and environmental tragedies of the Great Depression, but speaking just as directly to the harsh realities of all times. At one time Steinbeck said that all his work was meant to help people understand one another. He has wanted to enlist our sympathies for men of all degrees, for the wise and feeble minded, for beggars and kings alike. His most persistent theme has been the superiority of simple human virtues and pleasures to the accumulation of riches and property, of kindness and justice to meanness and greed, of life asserting action to life denying. In several ways he has asserted that all life is holy, every creature valuable. Herein lies his sentimentality and emotions, but also his strength. Initially he thought his novel was too raw for wide general appeal: “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags,” he told his editor in early 1939. But despite its unflinching detail, gritty language, and controversial reception, The Grapes of Wrath will endure for its narrative power and strength of vision for times immemorial.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath, Penguine Modern Classics, 1939
Sharon K. Hall. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 34, 1984, print.
Sharon R.Gunton, Gerard J.Senick. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 21, 1982, print.
Bryfonski, Dedria. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 9, 1978, print. Riley, Carolyn. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 1, 1973, print.
Cunningham, Charles. “Rethinking the Politics of The Grapes of Wrath”, 2002. Web.12th February,2012.
DeMott, Robert. “The Grapes of Wrath, A Classic today?”, Tuesday, 14 April 2009,Web, 12th February,2012.
A family functions like a grapevine; its coarse green vines intertwine from the dusty dirt that conceals the intricate network of roots to the first cluster of sweet grapes that grow in the hot California sun. Similar to the growth pattern of a grapevine, the assemblage of a family gathers in clusters. Though some grapes may separate or drop off or lose their ripeness, each individual grape is a product of the plant that cannot be taken away. Family is synonymous. As many miles or as much as one pursues to separate himself from his heritage, he cannot; for the blood of a human connects with those around him. People in this world are united. The clusters of grapes grow close together, and the grapevine itself extends and connects with other various grapevines. In The Grapes of Wrath written by John Steinbeck, the theme of family plays a central and fundamental role in the novel. At the beginning of the narrative, the Joad family has a traditional patriarchal family structure in which the males lead as the dominant heads of the home; however, this time-honored system will not last on the pilgrimage to California. This adjustment shows that a male-dominated structure is not necessarily crucial in a family setting. The Joads’ truck, which plays a significant role as the representation of the family’s patriarchal structure, seems not to waiver in its authority. It is very important to the family. When the entire family sits together in the truck, Uncle John, “[b]eing one of the the heads of the family…had to govern; and now he had to sit on the honor seat beside the driver” (Steinbeck 96). Pa Joad and Uncle John serve as the natural rulers. The Joad family functions similarly to a government with each member knowing his or her duty. The family operates as if they are able to communicate without words. In their peak times, the Joads run like an indefatigable, well-oiled machine. Contradicting the claimed roles as the heads of the family, one of the most influential people in the novel is Ma Joad: she serves as the family’s fortitude. Steinbeck writes that Ma Joad “seemed to know that if she swayed, the family shook, and if she ever really deeply waivered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone” (74). She desperately attempts to keep the family together under the harsh, unstable circumstances with all her willpower. When times get discordant, they have a more difficult time working together. The fact that Ma keeps the family together replaces the idea that only men can provide emotional welfare. Pa loses his identity when he leaves his pliant, stable job as a farmer and lets Ma take over. Literary critic Taylor Sharpe writes, “Ma [Joad]… is unopposed by the weak men around her, and she soon becomes the driving force of the family. This shift from patriarchy to matriarchy functions…bring[s] some beneficial and some harmful aspects into the Joads’ everyday life.” Ma keeps the family together in order to survive the foredooming events.Survival. Having a family prevails as a necessity in order to survive. John Steinbeck makes it clear that the family would not survive without each other. Despite community sentiments, a family is not simply classified as shared DNA, heritage, and blood; in fact, family is what an individual creates. Family is composed of those who show up in one’s life and stay there regardless of the circumstances. Family is steadfast and unfaltering. While during the journey countless of the Joad’s loved ones are lost, they still reside as part of the family. Eventually the Joads become united with the migrant families around them as times become worse and worse. Steinbeck writes, “In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream” (193). This shared dream unites all the migrant families together. They become one unit, and they travel together, celebrate together, mourn together, and learn together. Another literary critic writes that “[a]t the heart of every immigrants experience is a dream—a vision of hope that is embodied in his or her destination” (Gladstein 685). The doors swing open as the family realizes they are a part of something much, much bigger. Selfish intentions slip away. Ma Joad verbalizes the truth that they are no longer the Joad family but much greater than that when she says, “Use’ta be the family was fust. It ain’t so now. It’s anybody” (Steinbeck 445). Even the most selfish character of the novel, Rose of Sharon, gives up her self-centered intentions in order to give a dying man one last chance. To survive, one must succumb to the idea that family is more than DNA.Establishing the importance of family in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck makes it clear that the idea of human unity reigns as an extremely significant perception. Without harmony and coadunation, how can the human race survive? Regardless of one’s culture or appearance, all humans are humans; mankind is genetically composed of the same elements. The idea of human unity is present from literature to society today. Staring at the intimating face of adversity, the migrant people in the novel require unification with regard to the will of surviving the awful events that occur. Even in the tragic happenings of the United States of America, the bond between people is necessary to rebuild a new life. The terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001 shows an example of how the country came together to help those in need. They delivered away from their personal selfish intentions. The walls in humanity are built higher and stronger each year: society is divided between old and young, rich and poor, man and woman. However, this is detrimental, and man must realize human unity is vital for survival. As Ma Joad says, “we was the fambly” (393). Family is the center of human unity; the center of human unity is family.