Tom and his family undergo significant change due to uncontrollable forces that occur throughout the book. Through these events he and his family go through conversion, death and rebirth, migration, and are on constant pursuit for a better life. Many inner and outer changes occur throughout the entire novel. The Joad family begins the novel as self-centered individuals, and end the novel as a universal family with all the other migrants from Oklahoma, also known as ‘Okies’.
The California farmers look down on the novel, and are quoted as saying that the “Novel is of social criticism that fuses myth and symbol with its attack on a speech of American life during the 1930s. ” and “In Steinbeck’s work the false starts and turns, the thwarting problems of material and of the artist in the process of penetrating it, which usually mark the effort to portray truth, these singularly lacking.
Many opinions will form and reform both in the characters of the book, and the reader as the book goes on. Whether Steinbeck exaggerates or tells the truth in its fullest, these changes take place in the characters and the theme of a universal family is evident in the novel. The novel’s first theme is that of the pursuit for a better life. Tom Joad has just been released from prison. He only has served 4 years of his 7-year sentence for manslaughter, but he is now out on parole.
He returns and finds that his family is at his Uncle John’s. The banks are taking away farms and farmers can no longer keep up with the economy. His family welcomes him back, but they have decided to move to California. They have received handbills that announce of high wages and plentiful jobs in California. The Joad’s look forward to this new opportunity but fail to see that these handbills do not tell the full story of overcrowding and unemployment that lead to starvation and madness.
One book accurately quotes “The Grapes of Wrath is a work of contrasts dramatized in alternatively humorous and horrifying episodes: the hopeful westward migration of the Joads is morally compared to that of the original western settlers, and the family’s dreams of a ‘land of milk and honey’ contrast sharply with descriptions of California farm corporations which destroy crops to maintain high market prices”. The Joads begin their journey, but it quickly begins with a chain of death and rebirth. The first of these is when Grandpa is forced to leave his land.
Grandpa is like a fish and his land is like the sea. If he is taken out of the sea, he will not survive. The Joads dope him and then force him to move on. Very shortly, he dies of a stroke. Grandma’s purpose for living is to compete with Grandpa. These two are happily married (though they don’t admit it) and are always competing. She becomes a ‘religious fanatic’ because Grandpa is anti-religious. Their relationship is marked by frequent quarreling and humorous arguments. As soon as Grandpa dies, she soon passes away. Other deaths come with the separation of the family.
Connie (Rose of Sharon’s husband) abandons her, Casy is arrested, the dog has been hit by a car, Noah leaves the family by the beautiful river the Joads come across in California, and later in the novel Rose of Sharon’s baby is born dead. These deaths and rebirths take place not only on the exterior, but also within characters. After Tom kills the California cop, he dies from his life of freedom and is reborn into his life of imprisonment, only this time he is in hiding. Though a cop murders Casy, he has a lot of dying and rebirths throughout the book.
When we first see him he has died from his life of old preaching and is reborn into a life with the people, because he thinks that the people are holy. As he travels with the family he dies from his adopted style of just living with the people and is born into a new life of speaking for the people and organizing the people to strike back against the corrupt government. This leads to his death, but his death was for his family, the family of humanity. He is often related to Jesus Christ, which are his initials (Jim Casy and J. C. nd he is thought of as Jesus because he dies for the ‘Okies’ and was arrested for Tom.
Tom must take Casy’s message of organization of the migrants into a universal family instead of small individual pieces of the puzzle; thus, he acts as a Peter or Paul. Tom dies from a life of keeping to himself and in the end decides to live a new life of preaching Casy’s word and becoming like a preacher. Ma becomes worried but he assures her that he will duck quicker than Casy, meaning that he will not get struck by a cop in the head and die as Casy did. We observe a change in roles in both of these characters.
They both start as quiet individuals, but as their journey continues, they become preachers and group organizers. They bring hope to the migrants and are a force in ending the horrific poverty that the ‘Okies’ must live in. The deaths and rebirths alter the roles of Ma and pa and switch the amount of power each has. Pa experiences death and rebirth in his role in the family. At first, he is the patriarch of the family, the ‘go to’ man. However he becomes weaker on the journey and loses his power. He must resort to wrath to keep sane, but sadness is what will kill him. At the end, his anger is weakened and his sadness is at a peak.
He tries to build an embankment for Rose of Sharon but it collapses as the flooding waters tear it down. This is symbolic to Pa and his role; they collapse as the running waters of uncontrollable forces tear down his will to survive and his will to keep the family together. Ma, who must take his role when he has fallen, frequently tests him. Ma is reborn into the role of a matriarch. Ma’s courage and will to keep the family together is dying in certain parts, but is reborn throughout the entire novel, and is at a strongpoint when she tells Rose of Sharon to nurse the starving man at the end.
Pa must resort to Ma for strength and she is given full power over the family. As the book says, “when the men die out, the women must take over”. Ma’s initial role is to keep the family together, but in the end, her role is not only to keep the family together, but also to lead the family. In the last scene, it is Ma who sends Rose of Sharon to nurse the starving man back to life. When Rose of Sharon nurses the starving man back to life, she illustrates another important theme in the book, the importance of life.
The theme begins through Casy’s belief that humans are holy so he must live among the people, and is continued all the way up to the last scene. At the funeral for Grandma, Casy says that it is not important that she is receiving a ‘pauper’s funeral’, but that the living keep the money and use it for something important. At the last scene, Rose of Sharon is told by Ma to feed the starving man with the milk from her breasts. She follows accordingly and realizes that she is nursing this man back to life. By doing this, she is saying that the death of her baby is not what is important, but the life of this man is what matters.
Casy has become a leader and has many new ideas. He is a forerunner of the theme of life and he says that the very act of living is holy within itself. Therefore, Casy must live with the people to be holy. This initial thought is converted into Casy’s theory that our own souls are just a piece of the puzzle of everybody’s souls. Alone we are nothing, but together we are nearly omnipotent. He realizes that if the ‘Okies’ had organization and all joined forces that they could overrun the power of farm corporations that are holding them down.
The corporations also realize that with organization the migrants could overrule, so they keep the migrants from obtaining any sense of organization. The corporations mistreated the hungry migrants and paid them low wages. They ‘saw the eyes of hunger’ and would take advantage of the starving workers. They did not realize that there was not much between hunger and anger. When fueled by anger, the migrants could be mean, mad, and powerful. To avoid being overrun, the farmers cut the wages of the workers, and with the extra money, they hired guards to prevent squatting and to prevent the workers from forming a union and protesting.
Casy lives and dies trying to overpower the corporation with his theory of migrant collaboration and empowerment. Steinbeck uses Casy in many ways, and one reader says of Steinbeck “He wishes to give us a sense of the hordes of mortals who are involved with the Joads in the epic events of the migration; and along with the material events he wishes us to see the social forces at play and the sure and steady weaving of new social patterns for a people and a nation. ”
All of the events in the book lead up to a main theme, which is the formation of a universal family. The characters of the Joad family unite with each other, pick up Casy and the Wilson family on the way, and soon are united with all of the migrants. Ma is in charge of keeping the family together. She feels like she has failed many times throughout the book due to deaths and separation, but in reality, she is the driving force of the universal family. She empowers Casy to preach this universal family theme to all, and she helps everybody in the family.
When she doesn’t have enough soup to feed her immediate family, she saves a little and gives it to the starving children in the camp. She has a gigantic heart and wishes to take care of everybody. She is the strongest character in the novel, the only one close is Casy. While Casy plays the role of dying for the family of humanity, Ma’s role is maintaining the family’s togetherness. At the end, she passes her role onto Rose of Sharon by insisting that she use her milk to feed the starving man.
She tells Tom that their people will never die, that they will live on forever. In “The final episode of The Grapes of Wrath in which Rosasharn nurses a starving man with the milk intended for her child, is symbolic in its way of what is, I would say, the leading theme of the book. It is a type of life-instinct, the vital persistence of the common people who are represented by the Joads. Their sufferings and humiliations are overwhelming; but these people are never overwhelmed. They have something in them that is more than stoic endurance.
It is the will to live, and the faith in life. The one who gives voice to this is Ma. When they are driven out of their Hooverville and Tom is with difficulty restrained from violent words and acts against the deputies, it is Ma who explains to him what we might call the philosophy of the proletariat. ” Ma believes that her people, the migrant farmers and ‘Okies’, are part of her family. For that family Ma will do anything to help them and her entire life is devoted to the welfare of her family.
In conclusion, Tom and his family undergo significant change due to uncontrollable forces that occur throughout the book. Through these events he and his family go through conversion, death and rebirth, migration, and are on constant pursuit for a better life. Many inner and outer changes occur throughout the entire novel. Tom finally decides that he will die for the cause of spreading Casy’s message of organization and rebellion, and has gone through many deaths and rebirths in the book. He is even described as going back to the womb when he is in hiding between the two mattresses.
Casy converts from a preacher, to a member on the journey, and finally dies for his cause of saving humanity. Ma, who is the strongest character in the novel, has taken leadership away from the weakened Pa and is now in charge of the family. But the family that Ma is in charge of is more than her immediate family. The characters in The Grapes of Wrath and the members of the Joad family have united into a universal family that Ma serves as the caretaker of, and under Ma’s control this family will not die out to the corporations and will live forever.