The Grapes of Wrath
Theme Analysis: The Grapes of Wrath Essay
The Grapes of Wrath is a perfect example of a political novel that narrates the experience of the Joad family after being evicted from their farm in Oklahoma and their discouraging journey to California.
In the first few chapters, the author gives the reader an opportunity to participate in the story of the Joads by exploring their experience in their traditional life and their new found life, but in the last sixteen chapters; the author takes a broader look at the experience of displaced migrants in America as a whole. As a result, the novel portrays the issue of land ownership in California and America at large, the conflicts between the Haves and the Have-nots, people’s reactions to injustices, and the strength of a woman (Steinbeck ix).
It also delves into the impact of the Great Depression and the nature of parity and fairness in a larger context regarding America. Thus, this essay presents an in-depth analysis of The Grapes of Wrath, which reveals that the novel develops upon a wide range of themes including hope, class conflict, fanaticism, and commitment as described in the preceding discussions.
The theme of hope develops through the character of Ma Joad who struggles to keep her family together despite that the Joads have encountered many deaths, hardships, and deprivations. In fact, at the end of the narrative, the author describes the family as barely surviving (Steinbeck 455).
Conversely, the Joads display an optimistic mood because as the family expands, the family members get to recognize the need to identify with the group, and thus, they begin to realize the importance of group consciousness. Hope is also derived from the family’s long and challenging journey, whose experience enlightens some family members such as Ma Joad, Pa Joad, Tom, Jim Casy, John, and Rose of Sharon.
Actually, the family members are optimistic that the end of their long journey will come after realizing the American dream (Steinbeck 65). As a result, the desire to have a good life coupled with other motives encourages some family members to fight harder as opposed to those who are unable to see the end result of the journey including Al, Connie, and Noah.
Moreover, the family is determined to experience a different way of life, which gives them a broader perceptive of the world compared to their traditional life. In the end, it is obvious that the family has succeeded in terms of understanding and exploring life-time experiences in the face of different challenges.
Another major theme in The Grapes of Wrath entails class conflict. A conflict exists between the poor migrants, native Californians, and the powerful business people (Steinbeck 23). This conflict presents a clear picture of the characteristics of economic injustices in America during that time.
From a social perspective, the novel describes the economic disasters that arise after the migrants are forced to forgo their agricultural activities not only because of the natural disasters, but also because of the establishment of larger farms by the landowners, business people, and the banks.
Actually, at the beginning, the author notes that the land owners and banks evicted the tenants from the farms thereby making them to move to California in large numbers (Steinbeck 13). Thus, it is apparent that the business people and landowners are insecure in some way because they understand that the presence of migrants in their farms is a threat to their business and financial establishments.
Here, the migrants symbolize increased government interference, labor unions activism, and increased taxes on privately held property. This form of class conflict is the cause of the violence observed between the two groups and even the torching of government camps by state residents in California who are of the idea that the presence of migrants in their land is a threat to their financial interests (Steinbeck 305).
Moreover, class conflict can also occur when hardships, materialistic interests, and problems within the family are personalized. For instance, within the Joad family, Rose of Sharon is obsessed with her pregnancy and the future dreams instead of helping in the journey while her husband, Connie is still angry that they left Oklahoma, and thus he prefers to disappear rather than help in the family hardships (Steinbeck 45).
Fanaticism is also a major theme developed in The Grapes of Wrath. From both the religious and the social perspectives, it is obvious that fanaticism should be condemned because it is a trick used by a certain class of people to deny life, happiness, and advance economic deprivation in the society.
For instance, the former preacher, Jim Casy tells Tom that religion denies different aspects of life such as sexuality. Furthermore, in the camp, a fanatic religious woman claims that dancing is sinful, and thus, poor people should not dance but instead they should wail and moan because they are sinners (Steinbeck 55). On the other hand, religious fanatics claim that religion allows for economic classes within the society including the poor class.
Additionally, the experience of the Joads and their American counterparts shows that social fanaticism and prejudice causes fear and lack of faith among the migrants. As a result, this phenomenon led to instances of violence between the migrants and the native Californians, homelessness, starvation, and malnutrition among other shameful events. Therefore, it is certain that fanaticism, be it religious or social, is not a good thing after all.
Lastly, the novel develops on the theme of commitment in an extensive manner. Here, we note that the members of the Joad family were committed to certain goals and values, which kept them going and finally led to their success.
For instance, Tom and Jim Casy were committed to making Christ-like sacrifices for the rest of the family. As a result, Jim decided to surrender to the authorities to replace Tom and Floyd in order to show his commitment to loving all. Additionally, Jim becomes a labor activist and he dies while fighting for the rights of laborers.
Conversely, despite that at the beginning of the Journey, Tom does not want to identify with the group, his experience and friendship with Jim makes him to realize the need to fight for social justice and the significance of group consciousness within the family and in the society (Steinbeck 445). Therefore, commitment is a virtue that should be emulated by each member of the society if at all collective tasks and goals are to be accomplished.
Steinbeck, John. The grapes of wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Print.
The Grapes of Wrath: movie analysis Analytical Essay
The Grapes of Wrath film was produced in 1940 after the publication of a novel with a similar name. The movie talks about one family in Oklahoma that lost its belongings in 1930 due to the Great Depression. The family migrated to California and depended on wages from landowners for survival. In the movie, the family is depicted as one of the struggling families in the United States after the economic crisis of 1930.
The first part of the movie is similar to the novel, but the second part of the film differs greatly with the book. In the book, the author observes that the family could not stick together in the end due to unexplained reasons (Steinbeck 37). The book shows that the chances of Joad’s family living together were minimal because the economic conditions were expected to worsen.
In the movie, the family ended up living peacefully because the government provided necessary help and support. It shows that the ending of the movie and the novel are different. While the author of the novel is pessimistic, the producer of the movie is optimistic about the family. The producer noted that it would be controversial to end the movie in a pessimistic mood.
In the movie, some ugly events, such as the birth of the stillborn baby, are not included. The author noted that Rosasharn gave birth to a stillborn baby, but the baby died after some time.
When the Joad family arrived at the department of agriculture camp, the film shows that the family was received well. There was some optimism that life would be better when the family landed at the camp. In the book, the author does not show any optimism.
In the novel, Joad family is displayed as a greedy family that wishes to land a well paying job whenever it arrives at its destination. The landowners were always in conflicts with workers in the novel because they were unwilling to pay extra wages to workers. Workers were described as reds who wanted to be paid extra wages. Workers wanted to be paid thirty-cents per hour yet landowners were paying them twenty-five.
In other words, workers are displayed in the novel as people who do not consider the hard economic conditions. In the movie, workers are presented as considerate people who were always willing to sacrifice everything to save the economy. In fact, workers resorted to spiritual intervention whenever things were not working as expected (Sobchack 596).
In the movie, some characters are not included. For instance, Ivy and Sairy were never included in the movie yet they attended Grandpa’s burial in the novel. Moreover, the departure of Noah is not shown in the movie. In the book, Floyd explained how workers were taken through torture.
He explained to Tom how workers were suffering in the hands of landowners. In the Movie, Floyd does not feature until the appearance of the deputy in Hooverville. Moreover, the religious extremist (Rose of Sharon) is not shown in the movie. This shows that quit a number of characters are left out in the movie.
The movie and the novel differ in style. While the film uses visual imagery to show the solidness of the Joad’s family, the novel presents the family as a family of man meaning that a different style is employed. The film shows that the family was united and power was distributed equally between a man and a woman. However, the novel shows that man was always the head of the family.
Sobchack, Vivian. “The Grapes of Wrath (1940): Thematic Emphasis through Visual Style”. American Quarterly 31.5 (1979): 596–615. Print.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath, 1939. New York: Penguin Classics, 1992. Print.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck Essay
The Grapes of Wrath is a novel by John Steinbeck that was published in 1939 and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This book was initially withdrawn from the libraries of New York, Kansas City, and Buffalo because of its detailed description of a hard life. It was also banned in Ireland in 1953 and the Canadian city of Morris in 1982.
However, The Grapes of Wrath is now part of many US school and college curricula. Furthermore, it “created a national sensation for its depiction of the devastating effects of the Great Depression” (1, p. 1). This essay considers the plot, main characters and several crucial issues addressed in the novel, such as family, workers’ lives, and other social problems.
Summary of the Book
The story takes place during the Great Depression and begins with the moment when the protagonist, Tom Joad, returns home from prison. He was convicted of accidental murder and was released early for good behavior (2). Returning to his homeland, Tom does not know that strange events are happening on the farm. Now, the owners of the land banish farmers from these sites. They decide to use mechanical devices instead of manual labour as it is much cheaper for them than to support the whole family.
When Tom comes home, he sees that the house is empty and there is no one there. Neighbors said his family was packing up at Uncle John. Relatives meet the man happily, and soon they go to California to find work. On the highway, Tom and his family join other people moving West and make friends with the Wilsons.
However, when former farmers approach California, they meet many refugees who run from these places. It appears that all the information spread through leaflets is propaganda and a hoax. People work virtually for free, and there is a high unemployment rate because of refugees. Nevertheless, despite the rumors, the Joad family continues on their way.
Finally, they decide to stop by the river for a rest, because the road continued through the hot desert. Noah, one of Tom’s brothers, separates from the family and continues to look for work on his own. The rest of the family is forced to go on, as the police suddenly begin to chase them. Crossing the desert, the family loses their grandmother, and they have to spend all their money on her funeral in California.
Finally, Tom and his family are offered to earn some money by collecting fruit. While walking around the neighborhood in the evening, Tom meets the Reverend Casy, who tells him about how he got out of prison. He explains to the protagonist that everyone here is being cheated, and that is why the workers go on strike.
However, refugees, who arrived to earn money, prevent them from defending their rights. Casy is also tempting to start to agitate migrants, but Tom knows that hungry people will not agree to it. After the conversation, the preacher is killed at night, and Tom is beaten, but he manages to murder the attacker. The police start looking for him, and, therefore, the Joad family has to drive away.
Soon they stop at a place where the cotton harvest brings them considerable profits. However, his younger sister plays with another child and blurts that her brother is forced to hide because of the murder. Tom understands that it is dangerous for him to stay there, and the work is over. The family has to go to another area, where Tom’s sister Rose gives birth to a dead baby. After that, they find an abandoned barn and meet a boy. He persuades them to help his father who is dying of hunger, and Rose helps him.
In the beginning, the protagonist of the novel has his philosophy, which represents the principle carpe diem. However, when Tom meets the Reverend Casy, he realizes that he needs a longer-term view of his actions. As the family travels West, Tom learns more and more, and Casy teaches him that the only way to be powerful in this world is to join other people and struggle together for a better life. The murder of the Reverend turns Tom into a firm advocate of social justice.
The Reverend Casy
Jim Casy is also one of the main characters of The Grapes of Wrath. He supports the idea of sacrifice and stands against injustice by organizing laborers to fight the terrible conditions they faced in California. At the end of the story, Casy decides that he wants to devote himself to improving the workers’ lives in California. In addition, the Reverend’s death helps change at least one person, Tom Joad, who becomes an activist.
Ma and Pa Joad
These two characters represent complete opposites, as Tom’s mother becomes the center of strength during their trip, while his father weakens. When Pa loses his confidence, Ma tries to hold the family together and takes essential decisions on her own. More than that, this character depicts the theme of sacrifice, like the Reverend Casy. While Pa tries to serve his family as the provider, he isolates more from the rest as finding work is a hard time for him. Eventually, readers may notice that Pa becomes another one of Ma’s children.
One of the central themes of The Grapes of Wrath is familial and community support during hard times. John Steinbeck uses the Joad family as an example of mutual assistance and empathy.
Besides, other migrant laborers face hardships and share their sufferings, which allows them to build a strong community. Another critical issue risen in the novel is social injustice (3). Workers are exploited on the plantations, forced to work hard, while they are paid very little money, and the protagonists try to fight this inequality in different ways.
Observing the settlers, I notice how the author expresses his sympathy with the fate of people who cannot defend their dignity and human rights. I believe that The Grapes of Wrath is a thought-provoking novel as it makes people reconsider their values and principles.
Furthermore, the book teaches to treat each other with respect and kindness, especially in challenging situations. The author explains that “only through solidarity groups of ordinary people can hope to change and transform the system itself” (4, p. 50). Therefore, happiness can be found only when all people strive for it together.
The novel The Grapes of Wrath is one of John Steinbeck’s most famous works. The author managed to describe vividly the hardships and problems that working people had to face. It plunges into the era of the Great Depression, which refers to the 30s of the 20th century, and shows the atmosphere of that time in a very detailed way. That is why this book remains popular with readers all over the world in the 21st century.
- Study guide for John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Farmington Hills: Gale, Cengage Learning; 2015.
- Steinbeck J. The grapes of wrath. Brantford: W. Ross MacDonald School Resource Services Library; 2016.
- Kaushik M, Atri N. The plight of migrant labor in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck. GNOSIS. 2016 Oct;3(1): 81-87.
- Kuelzer L, Houser N. Addressing the living history of oppression and emancipation in American education. J Thought. 2019;38-54.
Literature: The Grapes of Wrath and As I Lay Dying Essay
A scholar, literary critic and a philosopher among others, Mikhail Bakhtin contributed largely to literature. In his theory of dialogism, Bakhtin claims that language is based on the construct of dialogue where a writer or speaker exchanges information with the respondents and meaning of this language is only definable based on those communicators. In his book Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin comes up with two subtexts; that is, carnival and grotesque realism.
According to Morris (1994, p. 249), “Bakhtin refers to the multiple voices at work within any given culture as heteroglossia, a term which foregrounds the clash of antagonistic social forces. Moreover, he uses the term polyphony with regard to the fully realized form of a novel, a word coined to describe Dostoevsky’s ‘multi-voiced’ novels, whereby author’s and heroes’ discourses interact on equal terms.” This understanding forms the background of The Grapes of Wrath and As I Lay Dying analysis in this paper.
John Steinbeck and William Faulkner’s Grapes of Wrath fits well into these Bakhtinian perspectives. The polyphonic traits of these works have given rise to numerous debates concerning their genre among other philosophical issues. Bakhtin would concern himself with establishing the evolutionary ontogenesis of the genre in these texts. The unity of structure and language in any comical genre take after carnivalistic folklore…”there is a strong rhetorical element, but in the atmosphere of joyful relativity characteristic of a carnival sense of the world this element is fundamentally changed: there is a weakening of its one-sided rhetorical seriousness, its rationality, its singular meaning, its dogmatism” (Bakhtin 1984, p. 107). Steinbeck and Faulkner’s works fit well in this concept. This paper analyses these works from a Bakhtinian perspective employing some of his literal principles. The Grapes of Wrath and As I Lay Dying are carnalized literatures.
The Grapes of Wrath
As aforementioned; Bakhtin talks of two subsets in his analysis viz. carnival and grotesque realism. These two subsets come with different characteristics, which will be exposited in this text. Nevertheless, the outstanding element of Bakhtinian interpretation would be establishing whether these novels qualify as carnivalized literature or not. According to Bakhtin, any carnalized literature should have Socratic dialogue and Menippean satire among other elements and these elements stand the test of time; they do not die from any carnalized literature. Moreover, a carnalized literature detaches itself from traditional sorts like the tragedy, history, and the epic. On the contrary, carnalized literature is serio-comical and relates strongly to carnivalistic folklore. The biggest task here is to determine whether The Grapes of Wrath fit in this description and is it fits, on what scale.
To analyze The Grapes of Wrath from a Bakhtinian perspective, it is good to trace its serio-comical links. Bakhtin points out that, the commixing element of serio-comic genres lies in its relation to carnivalistic folklore and any literal work moulded by this lore, “directly and without mediation, or indirectly, through a series of intermediate links qualifies as carnivalized literature” (Bakhtin 1984, p. 107). The outstanding feature of any serio-comical genre is the inevitability of change. Change underpins the plot of The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck deliberates on how America was rapidly changing in terms of agriculture, economy, and the subsequent displacement of thousands of people as America grappled with change; the basis of Bakhtinian perspective on carnivalized literature.
Change stands out as one of the themes of this novel. As the novel opens, Casy, the preacher, has denounced his faith after realizing life is, “a map with every winding and turning of the road fair set forth” (Kennedy 1951, p. 7). Casy quits his ministry because he cannot bear with Christian teachings on immorality for he sleeps with women in his congregation on a regular basis. He says, “I figured, ‘Why do we get to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figured, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Spirit—the human spirit—die whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of now I sat there thinking’ it, an’ all of a sudden—I knew it.
I knew it so deep down, that; it was true, and I still know it” (Steinbeck 1939, p. 31). This is a change. Casy realizes that his holiness does not come from a faraway god but from people around him and that is why he calls his fellow men and women ‘holy spirit.’ The change also dominates the lives of other characters like Tom and Ma. As the novel opens, Ma’s actions are louder than words. She seriously yearns for change and this is why she burns the letters, which carry her past.
This act of ‘destroying’ the past indicates that this family is ready to accept change as part of facing reality. The fact that Ma notices and acknowledges change, paints her as a heroine even in face of uttermost adversity. As the novel closes, the family goes through trying times; however, she stands out as she claims, “it’s all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on We ain’t gonna die out. People is goin’ on changin’ a little maybe, but goin’ right on…” (Steinbeck 1939, p. 542).
This shows how she is determined to welcome change for she knows; change is inevitable. On the other side, Tom represents the theme of change perfectly. After spending considerable time in jail, he changes greatly. He does not feel guilty of being a murderer and vows to Casy that he would murder again if faced with the same situation. As the novel closes down, Tom has undergone a total psychic transformation and this explains why he ultimately leaves his family to finish what Casy had started before he was murdered. In this context, Tom’s perspective about his family has changed greatly thus accomplishing Bakhtin’s arguments of a carnivalized literature.
Steinbeck’s theme of change touches not only the characters, but also the chapters of the novel. He utilizes literal elements like repetition, apocalyptic tone, and journalistic documentation as he explores the theme of change pointing out how it measures heavily on the affected people. This is yet another feature of serio-comical genre. He says, “…the great owners, nervous, sensing a change, knowing nothing of the nature of the change…when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes…here is the anlage of the thing you fear. We lost our land this is the beginning—from’ I’ to “we” (Steinbeck 1939, p.192-94). The application of repetition coupled with apocalyptic tone establishes the bearing theme of change in this novel. Bakhtin insinuates that multiplicity of voice is another characteristic of carnivalized novel.
Use of intercalary chapters throughout the novel increments the multiplicity of voices and tones. For instance, the dominant tone in chapter five is pessimistic and spells doom as the bank representatives embark on evicting farmers from their farms. However, in chapter seven the tone changes to optimism as car dealers try to strike a deal with their customers. Steinbeck further utilizes literal elements like personification, poetic description, and imagery in chapter eleven. In chapter twelve, the tone changes as immigrants march from Mississippi to California along Highway 66. These changing apocalyptic tones herald the fate that awaits these immigrants in California.
First, the job advertisements appearing on newspapers are nonexistent hence no wages. As these immigrants approach the Californian border, a border patrol car prevents them from entering California. The changing nature of tone here agrees strongly with Bakhtin’s arguments. Multiplicity of voices continues through the novel; in chapter, twenty-three people gather along the road to share stories of heroism. In chapter twenty-five, the carnivalistic nature of this novel sets in.
According to Holquist (1981, p. 18), Bakhtin’s element of carnivalesque may be taken to mean, “A literary mode that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the dominant style or atmosphere through humour and chaos.” This comes out clearly in chapter twenty-five through humour, irony and chaos. It is ironical and humorous that crops are being destroyed in a bid to keep market prices up while children on the other side are dying because of starvation. It is ironical that the immigrants cannot benefit from the rich Californian land and they can only watch as their children die of hunger. Steinbeck uses this irony to expose how human beings can become inhuman towards their fellow human beings.
As aforementioned, Steinbeck uses both intercalary chapters and narrative chapters, something that ties with ancient Socratic dialogue, “a rhetorical model which emerged from its base in carnivalistic folklore as a sort of remembrance of the actual conversations conducted by Socrates” (Morson 1990, p. 96).
The intercalary chapters elaborate on the immigrants’ sufferings, the gap between the rich and the poor, and the prevailing economic conditions and classes that never favored the immigrants. On the other hand, the narrative chapters shed light on family life in those days as different families grappled with changing environmental, social, and economical times. Differences in chapters bring about symphony in the novel. This mix up has drawn numerous criticisms towards this novel leading to what Bakhtin (1984, p. 111), calls anacrisis, “the provocation of the word by the word; the forcing of one’s opponent to articulate his position, thus revealing through spoken language any deficiencies in the logic or reason of his argument.” Similarly, Steinbeck’s work has drawn this anacrisis by prompting many critics to pick apart this work.
This novel has elicited anacrisis by arousing dialogue amongst differing sides of public thus exposing deficiencies in logic and reason leveled against The Grapes of Wrath. For instance, Kate O’Brien (1996, p. 180), claims that Steinbeck’s work “epitomizes the intolerable sentimentality of American ‘realism…he wrecks a beautiful dialect with false cadences…he is frequently uncertain about where to end a sentence.” This is immaterial and incorrect because there was nothing like ‘beautiful’ or ‘standard’ dialect, in the South; unfortunately, this is what O’Brien insinuates by claiming that Steinbeck was wrecking a ‘beautiful’ dialect. Steinbeck’s objective was to make his characters as real as possible. Numerous critics accuse Steinbeck of representing false religious practices.
Writing this novel off, West (1996, p. 181) concluded that this novel will “lie in that honorable vault which houses the books that have died when their purpose as propaganda had been served.” The fact is, this novel has stood test of time and won the coveted Pulitzer Prize. It is important to note that Steinbeck is not addressing a particular group of people; passive religious people for that matter, no; he is addressing active and physical religious, culturally diverse people. Nevertheless, these criticisms fit well in Bakhtin’s argument of anacrisis.
Another Bakhtinian element present in this novel is Menippean satire. According to Bakhtin (1984, p. 119), Menippean satire “possesses an inner logic, insuring the indissoluble linking up of all its elements…a great external plasticity and a remarkable capacity to absorb into itself kindred small genres, and to penetrate as a component element into other large genres.” This becomes clearer as the reader focuses on what Steinbeck meant by allusions he created about his characters in relation to their folklore. It is important to note that given the time Steinbeck wrote this novel, he was not bound by realism as Bakhtin observes on antiquated genres; actually, in Minippea satire, fantasy and allegory dominate.
Therefore, the extreme conditions that Steinbeck presents in this novel are logical in light of Minippean satire. Tom and Casy spend considerable time in prison where conditions are squalid; the Joads experience extremely tough situations on their way to California. Steinbeck did not need to be realistic in his writing; however, taken from contemporary thematic assertions, Steinbeck’s work does not fit in because they are based on realism. Therefore, does The Grapes of Wrath fit in Bakhtinian theories?
From the above discussion, this novel qualifies as a carnivalized novel because of several factors viz. connection to Socratic dialogue, theme of change, presence of anacrisis and Menippean satire. These elements give this novel a Bakhtinian perspective of interpretation especially the rich application of dialogism theory. Most of the criticism leveled against this work is based on religious stance that Steinbeck takes. Nevertheless, “Bakhtin viewed the account of Jesus in the Christian Gospels as the most highly evolved textual expression of dialogue and of carnival as it manifests in literature” (Morson & Caryl 1990, p. 49). Therefore, these criticisms serve to qualify Bakhtin theories in this novel.
As I Lay Dying
Written by William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying fits well in Bakhtinian concepts of dialogism, carnivalesque, and heteroglossia. The most outstanding feature in this novel is the failure by critics to look at the novel from Bakhtinian perspective. According to Peek and Hamblin (2004, p. 59), “Bakhtinian saw the study of the novel as an entirely separate enterprise from that of analyzing poetry.” Therefore, many of the criticisms leveled against Faulkner and his work simply serves to highlight deficiencies in logic of thought of these critics.
Anacrisis is the most outstanding Bakhtinian concept of this novel. Upon its first publication, As I Lay Dying elicited shock and outrage from different corners. For one, Faulkner chooses to “misuse narrative conventions hence overlooking realism; moreover, Faulkner is a botched realist; a de-constructionist” (Liburn 2000, Para. 9). These criticisms leveled against As I Lay Waiting emerge from what Bakhtin calls failure to detach study of novel from poetry analysis. Other critics have described this novel as a tragedy; however, it qualifies as a serio-comical genre, which is neither a tragedy, historic nor an epic. Nevertheless, these criticisms and differing points of view in interpreting this novel, confers this work one of Bakhtinian elements; that is, anacrisis.
In the theory of dialogism, Bakhtin (1984, p. 107) indicates that, “…there is a strong rhetorical element, but in the atmosphere of joyful relativity characteristic of a carnival sense of the world this element is fundamentally changed: there is a weakening of its one-sided rhetorical seriousness, its rationality, its singular meaning, its dogmatism.” This novel is weakened in its seriousness, rationality, and dogmatism hence eliminating realism. It is important to note that Bakhtin says that archaic writers did not need to be realistic in their writings.
Most of scenes in this novel are unrealistic thus qualifying this novel as a carnivalized literature. Carnivalesque here may be taken to mean, “A literary mode that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the dominant style or atmosphere through humour and chaos” (Holquist 1981, p. 18). Surely, humour and chaos dominate the scenes of this novel as exposited next.
Right from the beginning, Faulkner embarks on a journey to kill dogmatism and realism in this novel. As the novel opens up, Addie Bundren is about to die. Contrary to what many contemporary writers would consider ‘unreal’, Cash is busy preparing a coffin for his mother in what contemporary writers would call ‘extreme.’ “A good carpenter; Addie Bundren could not want a better one, a box to lie in, it will give her confidence and comfort” (Faulkner 1985, p. 5).
This is unrealistic; one would expect Cash to be taking care of his mother not making a coffin for someone who is alive. Thereafter, Vardaman comes home from fishing and compares his mother to a fish he has cleaned some minutes earlier. In an unrealistic turn of events, Vardaman is troubled so much by the fact that his mother is nailed inside a coffin. Consequently, as other family members sleep at night, he perforates the lid of Addie’s coffin to allow some fresh air in. unfortunately; two of his drillings go through Addie’s eyes. This scene is comical, a characteristic of subverting a dominant style throwing assumptions off balance through chaos and humour. These incidences herald Menippean satire in this novel.
Menippean satire dominates this novel with scenes of chaos and humor allover. After Addie dies, Anse remembers her dying wish was to be buried in Jefferson; a place of her people. Nevertheless, Anse is not just interested in going to Jefferson to bury his wife; no, he wants to get new false teeth and this journey offers him an opportunity to do so. Cash is like his father, he wants to get out of Yoknapatawpha County and get a phonograph; Vardaman wants to get a toy train, while Dewey wants to abort. This sets in the ironical part of this novel. It is ironical that, whilst these family members know very well that they have lost the mother of the family, they do not care about her well-being in death. This prompts Darl to set the barn in which Addie is housed after realizing his family member’s craftiness and selfishness.
As the journey to Jefferson embarks, chaos dominates the scenes. On their way to Jefferson, there is a heavy downpour leading to floods, which washes away the main bridge forcing the Bundrens to use a makeshift ford to cross the river. Unfortunately, a stray log comes from nowhere and throws the wagon off balance drowning their mules and aggravating Cash’s pain from his broken leg. Fortunately, Vernon Tull rescues them with the help of Jewel who refused to ride with the rest of the family. After surviving this incidence, they continue with their journey but Darl reads mischief in everyone’s agenda apart from Jewel.
Consequently, he decides to cremate Addie for he knows no one is interested in giving her a decent burial. Jewel again rescues the coffin and they manage to burry Addie finally. Meanwhile Dewey falls into a trap of a rogue shopkeeper who pretends to understand abortion issues only to lure her into sex. Darl is sent to a mental institution for the rest of his family thinks he is insane. Finally, the novel closes on an ironical tone when Anse introduces his newfound love, “’It’s Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell,’ pa says, kind of hangdog and proud too, with his teeth and all, even if he wouldn’t look at us. ‘Meet Mrs Bundren,’” (Faulkner 1985, p. 248). It is ironical that, Anse has barely buried his former wife when he marries another one. Through anacrisis, dogmatism theory and Menippean satire, As I Lay Dying qualifies as a carnivalized literature.
A Bakhtinian analysis of As I Lay Dying and the Grapes of Wrath is made possible by several characteristics of literature that Bakhtin puts across. He points out that literature analysis contains two elements viz. grotesque realism and carnivalism. These two stories are not historic, epic, or tragedy but they are serio-comical. Change is an outstanding characteristic of carnivalized literature and this theme dominates The Grapes of Wrath. The other element is anacrisis. In anacrisis, there are differing opinions and interpretations amongst different interpreters. In As I Lay Dying, many critics have come out to criticize Faulkner’s work branding it extreme due to the chaos and extreme suffering that seem to take place. Similarly, many critics have come out strongly to criticize the extremes that Steinbeck presents in The Grapes of Wrath.
Actually, many critics pointed out that these works would soon be forgotten for they were ’illogical.’ Nevertheless, Bakhtin sees anacrisis as a product of failure to detach novel reading from poetry analysis hence the differing opinions. Menippean satire stands out in these two works as it seeks to root out dogmatism that contemporary writers are used to. It also roots out reality. Archaic writers were not concerned about reality; therefore, Faulkner and Steinbeck are justified in their works. These two works qualify as carnivalized literature for they contain the central concepts of the same.
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Faulkner, W 1985, As I Lay Dying, New York; Vintage Books.
Holquist, M 1981, “Introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin’s”, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, London: University of Texas Press.
Kennedy, S 1951, “John Steinbeck: Life Affirmed and Dissolved.” Fifty Years of the American Novel: A Christian Appraisal, edn, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Lilburn, M 2004, “Overview of As I Lay Dying.” Literature Resource Centre. InfoTrac, SWVCTC Library. Web.
Morris, P (ed.) 1994, “The Bakhtin Reader: Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedov, Voloshinov”, New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc.
Morson, S & Caryl, E 1990, Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics, CA: Stanford University Press.
O’Brien, K 1996, “Fiction: Rev. of the Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck”, Spectator, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Peek, C & Hamblin, R (eds.) 2004, A Companion to Faulkner Studies, Westport, Greenwood Press.
Shockley, M 1963, “The Reception of The Grapes of Wrath in Oklahoma”, A Companion to The Grapes of Wrath Ed. Warren French. New York- The Viking Press, Inc.
Steinbeck, J 1976, The Grapes of Wrath. New York: The Viking Press, Inc.
West, A 1996, “New Novels; Rev. of the Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. New Statesman and Nation, Cambridge; Cambridge University Press.
The Grapes of Wrath: Economic Forces
In the movie and or novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck approaches and takes on, many political and social problems that the depression held. One topic that seems to be overlooked is how the storyline has many examples of economic forces at work in the film.
One of these economic forces, which are also one of the most apparent, in the film is the message of unemployment. At the opening of the film the family of the grapes of wrath are faced with eviction from their farm home; which is due mostly because of the dust bowl as well as the great depression.
The family, out of work, decides to travel cross-country with the hopes of finding a job as migrant workers, only to find that a hiring ploy had been pulled, which made this next economic force apparent to the family.
This next economic force at work in the story is supply and demand. The hard pressed family soon after arriving in California realized that the demand for jobs far exceeded the supply, thus sending them from farm to farm, looking for work.
Although this example of supply and demand is not applied to consumers and goods, this example still shows the economic force of supply and demand at work and how it affected the family.
The last of the economic forces at work in the film that I will mention is the economic force of labor. Labor, by definition is; the physical and mental effort of humans used to produce goods and services. In the movie, this is exactly what the many hopeful workers hoped to do in California, making a desperate trek from the Midwest of the United States, to the farms, vineyards, and orchards of the west coast, trying to overcome the previous economic forces of unemployment, and supply and demand for jobs to raise their income and standard of living to a point where one could survive.
Sadly, John Steinbeck isn’t one for happy endings, concluding on a light point of hope and insight amidst surrounding sadness and distraught. The analysis of this novel/movie as in the standards of economic forces is insulting to this great piece of American literature, defacing it’s deep underlying messages given in the last chapter (or scene) through intense “biblical” imagery, that show an account of humanity and humanity’s perseverance to survive and succeed.
Optimism in The Grapes of Wrath
At the end of the novel The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, it seems as though the Joads have nothing left to live for, however Steinbeck shows signs of optimism through symbols and biblical allusions. The Joads have gone through tremendous hardships throughout their entire trip to California to find work.
They have lost several family members, have gone without work and lived on extremely low rations for months. At the height of their struggles, the Joads are without food, shelter, and their strongest member Tom Joad.
The daughter, Rose of Sharon also delivers a stillborn baby. Steinbeck does however end the story with symbols of hope. The rain, which is constantly pouring down, is a symbol of renewal. The rain represents the coming of spring and plants. The rain has made a tiny points of grass came through the earth and Athe hills were pale green with the beginning year, enabling for new crops to grow and for families to find work.
Rose of Sharon’s stillborn baby is also a symbol of optimism. Uncle John is told to bury the baby after it is delivered. Instead Uncle John decides to float the baby down a river in its coffin. Through this action, Steinbeck alludes to Moses, who was also sent down a river as a baby, and later freed his people from slavery and brought them to Isreal. As Uncle John puts the stillborn baby into the river, he tells it to A. Go down in the street and rot and tell them that way. Uncle John is telling the baby to show the rich landowners what their greediness has done.
Uncle John sends the baby down as a symbol of the great suffering the have-nots have been through, saying, maybe they’ll know then. The last symbol of optimism comes when Rose of Sharon nurses a dying man. The man has been deprived of food for six days and is not able to digest solid foods. Rose of Sharon, after just delivering a stillborn baby, understands the situation and lets the man drink her milk. This action shows the tremendous growth Rose of Sharon has gone through as a person and ends the novel with optimistic gestures of generosity and unselfishness.
Marxism in the Grapes of Wrath bye John Steinbeck
Capitalism was chosen as the best economic system when the founding fathers were trying to determine the future of America. A capitalist is someone who owns a production system and who gains money through misusing the effort of workers. Through capitalist economic relations, socialistic ideas are broken down to bias earnings of an individual. Through creating such divisions as the upper, middle, and lower class, the theory of Marxism analyzes what ways capitalism can be used against the people. In the Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck confronts this ideal and reveals what he believes regarding this subject.
The Marxist theory of criticism examines the economic and governmental system that Steinbeck uses throughout the novel and reveals that Steinbeck does indeed believe that capitalism is naturally flawed.
Steinbeck starts his grand confrontation with capitalism, by creating the feeling that there are two classes with a third stuck somewhere between. In the start of the novel, 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” (7). 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. It is also interesting to note that Steinbeck sees that “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
He shows that those who have higher authority tend to take advantage of others for their own selfish desires. One character of the intercalary chapters notes that the greed of the upper class dominates society and says, “You go steal a tire and you’re a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call it business” (81). Using “he” can come to represent the strong business owners because its shows the marketing techniques used then. Businessmen would try to take everything away from those who were just trying to make ends meet. By saying that “he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire,” means that they only take for their pleasure and their corrupted desires. This motif of the separation of the current society into many classes based on greed shows how deeply ingrained it is and then shows how deeply it affects everyone.
Steinbeck delegates blame of the complete and utter misfortunate of the lower class onto the upper class. While looking for a job, Uncle John and Pa start speaking to a group of men about work, and the men respond by saying, “You can’t feed your fam’ly on just twenty cents and hour, but you’ll take anything. They jes’ auction off a job…pretty soon they’re gonna make us pay to work” (352). The upper class promises the other fortune, food, and other physiological needs for their families and through this completely and utterly dictates every single move of the lower class by dominating their basic needs that must, absolutely must be met. He then projects a specific quality and image to represent the upper class.
“The Bank-or the Company-needs–wants–insists–must have–as thought the Bank or the Company were a monster…they were men and slaves, while the banks and machines were masters all the same time. Some of the owner men were a little proud to be slaves to suck cold and powerful masters” (32). The reason the banks and companies are symbolized as monsters is because they consume profits and interest on money. If no provisions are given to this monster, this master, then its “slaves” would not be taken care of either, so it feeds from the weak. This is just another way in which those with the power can dominate the lower class through the basic needs that everyone has. It is through many other instances that follow the same pattern as the others that Steinbeck shows how the upper class completely dominates all aspects of society and the living of everyone else.
From every corner of the novel drops the contempt that Steinbeck has for those who completely disregard the needs of others in order to profit. To this end, Steinbeck uses the camps to show how he believes that society should currently be operating. In Weedpatch, the Joads gathered at camp with everyone else and noticed something different about the atmosphere. “There grew up a government in the worlds a Man who was wise found that his wisdom was needed in every camp; a man who was a fool could not change his folly with this world” (197).
This scene showed how the families united as one under their own governing. It showed that each person was equal to the next, falling away from this class defined society. Steinbeck headed towards socialism with this quote, opposing capitalism and its errors labeling a person and their family. By uniting, it seemed as though more work was able to get done and more people enjoyed a feeling of freedom. Families were able to get away from a higher authority and be able to work and think for themselves. Finally, an answer is presented to the question and problems, which Steinbeck had been building up, through the simple connection of the many ideas that flowed through this novel.
Through the suffering and misery that is faced by the farmers, Steinbeck sets the concept of separation of class based on luck and circumstance; the greed of those in command then does not allow for any change of any type to occur at all. The power that lies in the hand of the upper class has been abused and used to abuse those that it was meant to help. The greed that prevails throughout all instances of merchant dealings throughout this novel indicate that this is the basis and the only true representative of the upper class; through the struggles of the other people, Steinbeck believes that there is much more to life than simple materialism.
In Weedpatch, he shows that once people can shed pettiness and greed that capitalism fosters, they are able to connect and create something much better. From the first event of the novel to the last, Steinbeck focuses on showing the flaws of capitalism and providing a better solution to the problem that plagues the majority of the nation. Socialism will work where capitalism will not, one is based off of the unanimity whereas the other focuses on the few individuals that are able to exploit their greed and disregard for civilization to the extreme.
The Impossibility of the American Dream
America has come to represent ideals such as wealth, happiness, and freedom. Immigrants travel to America in search of the American Dream, constructed of these hopes, although the majority of foreigners and natives alike never discover it. Various American novelists comprehend this unachievable desire and explore its depths in books that have now become classics. Among these novels are John Steinbeck’s _Of Mice and Men_ and the same author’s _The Grapes of Wrath._ In the first, two men with the names Lennie and George roam California in the 1930’s, hunting for ranches to work on.
However, Lennie is mentally ill and always provokes trouble, driving the two companions to become fugitives until the next rural occupation. The American Dream motivates the two men; their version being a homestead with crops and rabbits, until George reluctantly shoots and kills Lennie. In the latter novel, the Joad family is forced off their land and into California in pursuit of work and ultimately their vision of settling down in a white house with oranges.
The family works efficiently and arduously, but remains in the miserable, poverty-stricken state in which they began. In his novels _Of Mice and Men_ and _The Grapes of Wrath_, John Steinbeck exposes the American Dream as unattainable through his settings, symbolization, and characters.
Steinbeck uses his settings to illuminate the unrealistic concept of the American Dream. Both novels occur in California in the 1930’s. More specifically, in _Of Mice and Men_, the story unfolds on a ranch, where every worker desires the American Dream, but none acquire it. For instance, Curley’s wife, who aspires to be a movie star, is murdered and Candy, who wishes to own a farm with Lennie and George, is condemned to remain at the ranch. The ranch is an accommodation for men, who have abandoned their dreams, to drudge through the week and then spend their pay on temporary pleasure. As George is exciting Lennie with their future home and land, George describes men who work on ranches. He announces, “They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to” (13-14). Despite the ranch’s employees’ daily labor, all they have to look forward to is the next week’s redundant momentary contentment.
The ranch represents these men and reflects the impossibility of the American Dream, since all of its inhabitants fail to capture it. In addition, the intricately detailed settings in _The Grapes of Wrath_ suggest the inaccessibility of the dream. For example, Steinbeck describes a roadside camp, “There was no order at the camp; little gray tents, shacks, cars were scattered about at random. The first house was nondescript. The south wall was made of three sheets of rusty corrugated iron, the east wall a square of moldy carpet tacked between two boards, the north wall a strip of roofing paper and a strip of tattered canvas, and the west wall six pieces of gunny sacking… and about the camp there hung a slovenly despair” (241). This precise portrayal provokes an understanding of the immense gap between reality and the American dream, since numerous people’s realities were dirty, uncomfortable camps such as the one depicted, not the comfortable lifestyle presented in the dream.
Moreover, Steinbeck uses symbolization to propose the American Dream is unreachable. Curley’s wife, in _Of Mice and Men_, finds Lennie alone in the barn one night and confesses to him her broken lifelong dream of becoming a movie star. She explains, “Well, a show came through, an’ I met one of the actors. He says I could go with that show. But my ol’ lady wouldn’t let me… If I’d went, I wouldn’t be livin’ like this, you bet” (88). Curley’s nameless wife is not a character, but the embodiment of the unattainable American Dream. She is an excellent example of the countless people who were forced to settle for less than the perfection of the dream. In _The Grapes of Wrath_, Rose of Sharon gives birth to a stillborn baby. When Ruthie asks her mother where the baby is, Ma replies, “‘They ain’t no baby. They never was no baby. We was wrong’”(446). The baby symbolizes the hope, happiness, and fresh start associated with the American Dream. Consequently, when the baby dies, all the ideals it suggests die with it, leaving the American Dream blatantly unattainable.
Furthermore, Steinbeck uses his characters to explore the dream’s inability to be obtained. George and Lennie, in _Of Mice and Men_, desire a house on a farm, but when Lennie kills Curley’s wife, George understands the dream has disappeared. He admits to Candy, “‘I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her. [Lennie] usta like to hear about it so much I got to thinking maybe we would” (94). Regardless of George and Lennie’s money and effort, the friends do not reach their goal. Likewise, the Joads, in _The Grapes of Wrath_, hope to find work and settle down in California.
Unfortunately, work is scarce and very few people are adequately prosperous to own land; the Joads face many hardships and difficulties. Steinbeck reveals the family as a flood invades their boxcar home and threatens to destroy the little property they own, “The family huddled on the platforms, silent and fretful. The water was six inches deep in the car before the flood spread evenly over the embankment and moved into the cotton field on the other side” (450). The family’s crushed dreams, for they are far away from a white house with oranges although they struggled to succeed, assert that the American Dream is unfeasible.
Even nowadays, people strive for goals that are ultimately unachievable. Society tells children that they can do anything or be whatever they want to be. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic. Not everyone can be a famous actor, talented singer, or professional athlete because all these careers take luck and skill as well as hard work. Aiming for unattainable goals only leaves the dreamer disappointed and dissatisfied and holds him or her back from obtaining more realistic dreams. In the novels _Of Mice and Men_ and _The Grapes of Wrath_, John Steinbeck realized the harm in constantly aiming for these unhealthy desires and exposed the impossibility of the American Dream.
Jim Casy as a Jesus Christ Figure
In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck uses several characters and situations to symbol something greater. The character, Jim Casy, is portrayed as an allegorical figure that represents Jesus Christ. Casy’s ideals and beliefs are very similar to those of Jesus Christ. Jim Casy is used to represent Jesus Christ, and to give the people going through a hard time a glimpse of hope and strength. Steinbeck portrays Jim Casy as Jesus Christ. The first notable comparison between them would be their initials.
Both Jesus Christ and Jim Casy have the same initials.
They also both have a strong love for humanity and saw the good in people. Jim Casy let people around him know that it shouldn’t be God that they should lean on, but on each other.
In the novel, he says, “It’s love. I love people so much I’m fit to bust, sometimes. ” (23) This showed that Casy wanted people to lean rely on each other. He believed that people struggling together was by far better than one person struggling alone. Both Jesus Christ and Jim Casy go to the wilderness to get their thoughts and beliefs together. Casy’s main goal was to find the meaning of “holy”.
Casy tells the Joad family, “An’ I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin’ stuff. ” (81) While in the wilderness, Jim Casy realizes that holy is when mankind is united as one. He believed that every person was just one piece of a universal soul and that people could only be holy if they were united. Both Jesus Christ and Jim Casy also sacrificed themselves to protect others. Tom Joad, who already committed the crime of breaking his parole and leaving Oklahoma, knocked out a deputy. He was then instantly put in the danger of going back to prison.
Jim Casy selflessly offers to take the blame and go to jail instead of Tom so that Tom would be able to lead the family. Lastly, both Jesus Christ’s and Jim Casy’s beliefs are spread after their deaths. When Jim Casy is brutally murdered, Tom Joad vows to spread Casy’s beliefs onto more people. Jesus Christ and Jim Casy share many similarities, a few being in their names, their love for humanity, their wilderness experiences, and their sacrifices. Steinbeck portrays Jim Casy as Jesus Christ in order to show that people working together will give them hope and strength.
Steinbeck sends the message that people must always look towards a brighter future and stick together. He says, “But when they’re all workin’ together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the hole shebang-that’s holy. ” (81) Although the Okies were being driven off their land, Casy worked hard to get the people to work together. One of the many ways Casy reaches out to people is by taking the blame and going to jail instead of Tom. By doing so, Tom was able to carry on with his journey and guide his family as well.
This gave people the incentive to start working together and relying on each other. Casy desperately wanted to give his people some hope and spirit that would allow them to look towards a brighter future. Casy says, “I gotta see them folks that’s gone out on the road. I got a feelin’ I got to see them. They gonna need help no preacher can give ‘em. ” (52) Casy knew that his purpose in life was to help those people in need. Therefore, he took every opportunity he could to help. He organized a group of migrants to picket outside a peach picking camp.
By working together, the migrants managed to keep reasonable wages for their work. Even though he knew the risks of going to jail if there was ever a leader, he still did not stop fighting for his people. Jim Casy fought for his people till death. His message, however, remained alive and touched the hearts of many of the Okies. Before Tom leaves his mother, he says, “But I know now a fella ain’t no good alone. ” (418) This showed that Casy was successful in spreading his message. He was able to make Tom realize the importance of a community during desperate times.
Though Tom was just one person, he was sure that his people would soon get his message. Steinbeck portrays Jim Casy as Jesus Christ in order to emphasize the importance of unity in a community and also to give people enough hope and strength to allow them to carry on. Jim Casy is a symbol of Jesus Christ. He is used to give his fellow people hope and strength by working together. He has several similarities with Jesus Christ in his life and even in his death. His beliefs and ideas provide hope and strength for those in need. Steinbeck used Jim Casy to give the Okies some spirit to carry on and look forward to a brighter future.
Grapes of Wrath
The exodus of the Joad family from Oklahoma to the promised land of California. They were cheated by tradesmen along Highway 66, harassed by border guards at state boundaries, and on arrival were burned out of their makeshift camp by police deputies. One dark night the Joads wandered into Weedpatch Camp, a government refuge for migratory farm workers, where they found clean beds, indoor privies, food, friendship, and hope. “Oh! Praise God,” whispered Ma Joad. “God Almighty, I can’t hardly believe it! ” pronounced Tom.
(p. 390) Their praises were addressed to Providence, but were intended for Washington. Here, they believed, for the first time in their lives, was hard visible proof that their government, whatever and wherever it was, really cared about them and the hundreds of thousands of people like them–landless, homeless, penniless victims of a fickle climate, an unstable economy, and a pernicious way of life. Between the Lesters of Georgia and the Joads of Oklahoma, a profound change of spirit had come upon the land.
The great revolution of the twentieth century, not only in the United States but also in the emerging nations abroad, is the kindling of an extravagant hope that the human condition of man can and should be improved, through the harnessing of the power, resources, and machinery of government, not in some distant millennium, but during the lifetime of those now living. The effective response of modern governments to this enormous challenge depends not only on the dreaming of dreams and the preaching of hope, but also on the capacity to convert the pictures in men’s heads into the realities in their lives.
4. Considering the characters in the novel, which actions do you find admirable, and why? Which do you find reprehensible, and why? Admirable A considerable indecisiveness emerges from the novel about how radical the problem is: whether the circumstances of class war exist likely from the interchapters or whether there is a clear-cut villain in the Farmers’ Association with no broader implications—likely from the chapters and their limited point of view.
The problem is partly compounded by the pragmatism of the Joads themselves, in many ways admirable in the face of degenerating circumstances but also dangerous in their willingness to lower their expectations: at the beginning Ma Joad dreams of a white house in California after a few months on the road, she hopes they may one day afford a tent that does not leak; Rose of Sharon plans early in her pregnancy a comfortable future for her child at the end she is sulking for a little milk so that her baby may be born alive.
The disadvantages of nonteleological thinking are apparent when the result is a perpetual readjustment to straitened conditions: while we are told that the metaphysical grapes of wrath are ripening for the vintage, what we see among the poor is stoicism, sacrifice, and one supreme act of charity. Reprehensible Rose of Sharon and Connie think only of themselves and of now they will break from the group, and when difficulties arise Connie wishes that he had stayed in Oklahoma to man a tractor driving the people from the land.
Later, alone, Rose of Sharon complains of her plight and frets about the coming child, and instead of sharing the family responsibility she adds to family worries. Uncle John is similarly preoccupied with his guilt and his personal problems and is almost useless to the group, picking cotton at only half the rate of the other men. Both he and Al withhold money from the family treasury. Noah, thoughtless of the others, wanders away. Connie, leaving a pregnant wife, also deserts. Even the children show a teasing selfishness.
Ruthie eats her crackerjacks slowly so that she can taunt the other children when theirs is gone, and at croquet she ignores the rules and tries to play by herself. 5. Describe the role women play throughout the novel The seemingly gratuitous details of the truck driver and the woman driver may intentionally suggest Steinbeck’s awareness that men are often destructive while women are usually more protective: Tom Joad has just been revealed as having committed manslaughter; later we shall see that Ma Joad and Rose of Sharon try to preserve the family and nurture life.
Ma Joad would be womanly and maternal in any station. If she had been a duchess, she would have labored with heroism for the integrity of the family and would have had a comprehensive vision of the serious social obligations of her class. The scene of her farewell to Tom… is of the pure essence of motherhood. The pathos is profound and free from a taint of sentimentality. The courage and devotion of the woman are sublime
In Ma Joad, Steinbeck created one of the most memorable characters in American fiction of the twentieth century. It is her courage which sustains the family through the almost overwhelming distresses suffered during their epic migration to the West. She voices the author’s belief in the common folk’s invincible will to survive. Ma is a tower of strength to her group, like Pilar in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls though less articulate.
She is a kind of pagan earth mother, kind to her father-in-law and her mother-in-law, anxious to let her husband Pa lead the family but quickly assuming the reins when he lets them slip through weakness and lack of understanding, firm but sympathetic with her children, friendly with deserving strangers. Ma holds her family together far longer than anyone else in the group could have done. She suffers intensely when she sees Grampa die, then Noah disappear, then Granma die, and then Tom obliged to hide and then go away. But she almost never reveals the degree of her misery.
She knows that while she holds, the unit will hold unless man’s inhumanity to man and nature’s indifference put pressure upon her which simply cannot be endured. She goads Pa into near frenzy, knowing that it will make him stronger. She threatens to slap Rose of Sharon at times, but when the poor, pregnant, abandoned girl needs comfort, Ma is there with it in full measure. She knows that she can rely on Tom, not Al. She lets Uncle John have money for one quick drunken spree, knowing that without it he might crack. References Steinbeck John, (1939) The Grapes of Wrath New York: Viking.