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Grapes Of Wrath By John Steinbeck

It is said that everything is done for a purpose, and if that purpose is not obvious, it could be evident within oneself. In The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, the story not only entails the tale of the tragically poor, but also an uplifting sense of discovery. The story tells not only of the physical journey to California, but of the characters’ spiritual travels as well. By examining the lives of Jim Casy, Tom Joad, and Ma Joad, one will see the enlightening changes that mark their lives through the depression. Jim Casy’s journey is an astounding one.

He begins his life as a preacher, yet decides one ay that his work is invalid; sinful, in some way. He says to Tom, “‘I used ta get the people jumpin’ an’ talkin’ in tongues, an’ glory-shoutin’ till they just fell down an’ passed out. . . An’ then – you know what I’d do? I’d take one of them girls out in the grass, an’ I’d lay with her. Done it ever’ time. Then I’d feel bad, an’ I’d pray an’ pray, but it didn’t do no good. Come the nex’ time, them an’ me was full of the sperit, I’d do it again. I figgered there just wasn’t no hope for me, an’ I was a damned ol’ hypocrite.

But I didn’t mean to be. ‘” (Page 28) He decides that he is not noble enough to continue his ork, and grows distempered when others ask him to preach the word of God. He spends his time with the Joad family gratefully, but little else. He does no real work to help them out; he spends most of his time thinking to himself. Although Casy repeatedly confesses his guilt for doing nothing for the family, he makes no real efforts to contribute, and remains on the sidelines. However, when Tom trips a policeman that was threatening to take everyone to the station, Casy takes the blame. Casy turned to Al. ‘Get out,’ he said. ‘Go on, get out – to the tent. You don’t know nothin’. ‘ ‘Yeah? How ’bout you? ‘ Casy grinned t him. ‘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’. ‘ Al said, ‘Ain’t no reason for -‘ Casy said softly, ‘If you mess in this your whole fambly, all your folks, gonna get in trouble.

I don’ care about you. But your ma and your pa, they’ll get in trouble. Maybe they’ll send Tom back to McAlester. ” (Page 342) Casy further strengthens his morals by becoming a rebel against the authorities. He leads a strike against a pay decrease out of a peach farm, and when men come to do him in, he doesn’t step away, but simply pleads his case. ‘Listen,’ he said. ‘You fellas don’ know what you’re doin’. You’re helpin’ to starve kids. ‘ ‘Shut up, you red son-of-a-bitch. ‘ A short heavy man stepped into the light. He carried a new white pick handle. Casy went on, ‘You don’ know what you’re a-doin’. ‘”(page 495) Even as he sees the man means to do him harm, he stands his ground.

He goes from a man who felt he had no role to play in life to a martyr for the poor and hungry. His journey is one of courage and light. Tom is a rough edged man at the beginning of the novel. He has killed a man, and yet, seems to feel no remorse. His reasoning behind the slaying is also less than dignified. “‘I been in McAlester them four years. ‘ ‘Ain’t wanting to talk about it, huh? ‘ (Casy asked) ‘I won’t ask you no questions, if you done something bad -‘ ‘I’d do what I done – again,’ said Joad. ‘I killed a guy in a fight. We was drunk at a dance.

He got a knife in me, an’ I killed him with a shovel that was layin’ there. Knocked his head plumb to squash. ‘ Casy’s eyebrows resumed their normal level. ‘You ain’t ashamed of nothin’ then? ‘ ‘No,’ said Joad. ‘I ain’t. I got seven years, account of he had a knife in me. Hot out in four – parole. ‘” (Page 33) He seems to erceive his misconduct as a ritual of life everyone must undergo, and this lack of conscience shows one with little character or worthiness. However, when he finds his family at his Uncle John’s place, he dedicates his life to helping out the family and himself.

He works on the car, towards finding work, and to comfort Ma when she seems to need it. His personality lightens as he becomes a vital part of the Joad clan. However, when he finds Casy striking out, and witnesses his death, his natural instincts come out, and he kills Casy’s assassin, thereby getting himself into even more trouble than he was in before or breaking his parole. “Tom looked down at the preacher. The light crossed the heavy man’s legs and the white new pick handle. Tom leaped silently. He wrenched the club free.

The first time he knew he had missed and struck a shoulder, but the second time his crushing blow found the head, and as the heavy man sank down, three more blows found his head. ” (Page 495) The repeated blows demonstrate a lack of control possessed by Tom, yet, his manner for killing the man are slightly more justified than the man at the dance. The differences between the two killings already demonstrate an enlightening of Tom’s character. When Tom goes to tell his mother that he cannot stay for fear of the family, his words show his complete metamorphosis.

“‘Tom,’ Ma repeated, ‘what you gonna do? ‘What Casy done,’ he said. . . Ma said, ‘How’m I gonna know about you? ‘ ‘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 what, Tom? ‘ ‘Then it don’ matter. . . 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 augh 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. ” (Page 537) He decides to dedicate his life towards the fight of the hungry and oppressed and cares little for trivialities any longer. His journey is a spiritual one that could not have been assessed without Casy’s help. Ma Joad is a character that can be over looked due to her sex and seeming minimal interaction in the novel. Can be over looked, but shouldn’t be. Ma represents the spiritual glue that binds the family through triumph and turmoil. In the beginning, Ma is seen as the typical housewife; she cooks, cleans and looks after the children.

She is a somewhat docile creature that follows her husband’s word with little question. Her first stand against the men in the family is the first real threat of the family splitting apart. When a neighbor’s car breaks down, Tom offers to fix it and have the family move on. Ma grabs a jack handle and states she will not go; that she will hit her husband if he tries to make her. “Pa looked helplessly about the group. ‘She sassy,’ he said. ‘I never seen her so sassy. ‘ . . . Tom said, ‘Ma, what’s eatin’ on you? What ya wanna do this-a-way for? What’s the matter’th you anyways?

You gone johnrabbit on us? ‘ Ma’s face softened, but her eyes were still fierce. ‘You done this ‘thout thinkin’ much,’ Ma said. ‘What we got lef’ in the worl’? Nothin’ but the folks. We come out an’ Grampa, he reached for the shovel-shelf right off. An’ now, right off, you wanna bust up the folks -‘” (page 218) She fights against the norm in order to preserve her family, who is all she has left. Here she gains respect. “The eyes of the whole family shifted back to Ma. She was the power. She had taken control. ” (Page 218) Her strength throughout he ordeal is amazing.

She hides her pain and anguish from the others and deals with their problems rather than hers. She even lies with Granma’s corpse in order to get the family across to California. “‘I was afraid we wouldn’ get acrost,’ she said. ‘I tol’ Granma we couldn’ he’p her. The fambly had to get acrost. I tol’ her, tol’ her when she was a-dyin’. We couldn’ stop in the desert. There was the young ones – an’ Rosasharn’s baby. I tol’ her. ‘ . . . The family looked at Ma with a little terror at her strength. Tom said, ‘Jesus Christ! You layin’ there with her all night long! ‘ ‘The fambly hadda get acrost,’

Ma said miserably. ” (Page 294) Her dedication to the family is remarkable. She becomes dedicated to their new lives, and develops a new insight on life. “‘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. ‘” (Page 360) Her strength and power unfold throughout the story and her journey is one of survival. She evolves to become the strongest pillar in the Joad family. Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is a novel that enables one relate to the struggles of humankind.

Yet it is his evolution of the characters that takes on a great impact as one can witness the transitions in a human’s whole being that occurs after heartache and misery unfold. Through Casy’s, Tom’s and Ma’s own spiritual journeys, one can see that there are brighter things that arise from tragedy. That although situations may be at their bleakest, one adapts, and may even turn out better than he or she started out. It is a shame that horrid situations are the ones that urge people to change their lives, but it is at least enlightening to see that the majority of these changes are for the better.

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Home » Grapes Of Wrath By John Steinbeck

Grapes Of Wrath By John Steinbeck

Grapes Of Wrath By John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath is a novel by John Steinbeck that exposes the desperate
conditions under which the migratory farm families of America during the 1930’s
live under. The novel tells of one families migration west to California through
the great economic depression of the 1930’s. The Joad family had to abandon
their home and their livelihoods. They had to uproot and set adrift because
tractors were rapidly industrializing their farms. The bank took possession of
their land because the owners could not pay off their loan. The novel shows how
the Joad family deals with moving to California.

How they survive the cruelty of
the land owners that take advantage of them, their poverty and willingness to
work. The Grapes of Wrath combines Steinbeck adoration of the land, his simple
hatred of corruption resulting from materialism (money) and his abiding faith in
the common people to overcome the hostile environment. The novel opens with a
retaining picture of nature on rampage. The novel shows the men and women that
are unbroken by nature. The theme is one of man verses a hostile environment.

His body destroyed but his spirit is not broken. The method used to develop the
theme of the novel is through the use of symbolism. There are several uses of
symbols in the novel from the turtle at the beginning to the rain at the end. As
each symbol is presented through the novel they show examples of the good and
the bad things that exist within the novel. The opening chapter paints a vivid
picture of the situation facing the drought-stricken farmers of Oklahoma. Dust
is described a covering everything, smothering the life out of anything that
wants to grow. The dust is symbolic of the erosion of the lives of the people.

The dust is synonymous with “deadness”. The land is ruined ^way of
life (farming) gone, people ^uprooted and forced to leave. Secondly, the dust
stands for ^profiteering banks in the background that squeeze the life out the
land by forcing the people off the land. The soil, the people (farmers) have
been drained of life and are exploited: The last rain fell on the red and gray
country of Oklahoma in early May. The weeds became a dark green to protect
themselves from the sun’s unyielding rays….The wind grew stronger, uprooting
the weakened corn, and the air became so filled with dust that the stars were
not visible at night. (Chp 1)

As the chapter continues a turtle, which appears
and reappears several times early in the novel, can be seen to stand for
survival, a driving life force in all of mankind that cannot be beaten by nature
or man. The turtle represents a hope that the trip to the west is survivable by
the farmer migrants (Joad family). The turtle further represents the migrants
struggles against nature/man by overcoming every obstacle he encounters: the red
ant in his path, the truck driver who tries to run over him, being captured in

Tom Joad’s jacket: And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the
driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. The driver of the truck works for a
large company, who try to stop the migrants from going west, when the driver
attempts to hit the turtle it is another example of the big powerful guy trying
to flatten or kill the little guy. Everything the turtle encounters trys its
best to stop the turtle from making its westerly journey. Steadily the turtle
advances on, ironically to the southwest, the direction of the mirgration of
people. The turtle is described as being lasting, ancient, old and wise: horny
head, yellowed toenails, indestructible high dome of a shell, humorous old eyes.
(Chp 1)

The driver of the truck, red ant and Tom Joad’s jacket are all symbolic
of nature and man the try to stop the turtle from continuing his journey
westward to the promise land. The turtle helps to develop the theme by showing
its struggle against life/ comparing it with the Joad struggle against man. The
grapes seem to symbolize both bitterness and copiousness. Grandpa the oldest
member of the Joad family talks of the grapes as symbols of plenty; all his
descriptions of what he is going to do with the grapes in California suggest
contentment, freedom, the goal for which the Joad family strive for: I’m gonna
let the juice run down ma face, bath in the dammed grapes (Chp 4)

The grapes
that are talked about by Grandpa help to elaborate the theme by showing that no
matter how nice everything seems in California the truth is that their beauty is
only skin deep, in their souls they are rotten. The rotten core verses the
beautiful appearance. The willow tree that is located on the Joad’s farm
represents the Joad family. The willow is described as being unmovable and never
bending to the wind or dust. The Joad family does not want to move, they prefer
to stay on the land they grew up on, much the same as the willow does. The
willow contributes to the theme by showing the unwillingness of the people to be
removed from their land by the banks. The latter represents the force making
them leave their homes.

Both of these symbols help contribute to the theme by
showing a struggle between each other. The tree struggles against nature in much
the same way that the Joad family struggles against the Bank and large
companies. The rains that comes at the end of the novel symbolize several
things. Rain in which is excessive, in a certain way fulfills a cycle of the
dust which is also excessive. In a way nature has restored a balance and has
initiated a new growth cycle. This ties in with other examples of the rebirth
idea in the ending, much in the way the Joad family will grow again. The rain
contributes to the theme by showing the cycle of nature that give a conclusion
to the novel by showing that life is a pattern of birth and death. The rain is
another example of nature against man, the rain comes and floods the living
quarters of the Joads.

The Joads try to stop the flood of their home by yet
again are forced back when nature drops a tree causing a flood of water to ruin
their home forcing them to move. In opposite way rain can helpful to give life
to plants that need it to live. Depending on which extreme the rain is in, it
can be harmful or helpful. This is true for man, man can become both extremes
bad or good depending on his choosing. Throughout the novel there are several
symbols used to develop the theme man verses a hostile environment. Each symbol
used in the novel show examples of both extremes. Some represent man, that
struggles against the environment, others paint a clear picture of the feelings
of the migrants. As each symbol is presented chronologically through the novel,
they come together at the end to paint a clear picture of the conditions,
treatment and feelings the people (migrants) as they make there journey through
the novel to the West.

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