Writer, John Steinbeck, in his historical fiction novel, The Grapes of Wrath, describes the hardships that the poor migrant farmers faced during the depression as they moved westward, searching for a better life. Steinbeck’s purpose is to inform about the difficulties poor farmers faced during the depression, as well as to entertain the reader by the story of the Joads.
He adopts a somewhat depressing, yet quite detailed, tone in order to fully showcase the troubles that the Joads face, the same problems all the poor faced during the time of the depression. Steinbeck’s theme throughout the novel is the importance of family. Whether it’s the family values that help you succeed, or staying with family to keep you safe; Steinbeck exemplifies both through the story as he uses the Joads and their journey west to exemplify the importance of family.
Steinbeck begins his novel by establishing vivid imagery to draw the reader in and get them interested in the story. From the very first page of the novel, Steinbeck’s description of the rain and sky sets the stage for vivid imagery throughout the book: “The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered the weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover.
In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. ” (Steinbeck 1) Steinbeck’s use of imagery is an appeal to the visual senses and an effective use of pathos, drawing in the reader and causing them to feel emotional investment before the major events of the book even start. As the novel progresses, Steinbeck continues to use detailed imagery and pathos to enhance the reader’s experience.
Steinbeck’s use of imagery is part of the overall diction he uses in his writing. Steinbeck uses a contrast of formal writing and colloquial conversation between the Joads to allow the reader to be more involved with them, almost to the point where they too feel the struggles that the Joads are going through. The colloquial conversation shows the family bond that the Joads have, not just with themselves, but with their friends.
When Casy asks to travel to California with the Joads, Ma Joad responds with a familial, “Why, we’d be proud to have you” (Steinbeck 101). It is this colloquial, friendly conversation which Steinbeck uses so well throughout his novel, emphasizing the comfort and informality of being with one’s family. This friendship that the Joads show towards Casy is repaid as the story progresses, when Casy takes the blame for knocking out a police officer who was actually knocked out by Tom Joad.
The true familial bond between the Joads and Casy is shown when he sacrifices his life in order to get them and the other migrant workers better wages. Steinbeck, even in the final moments of one of his character’s lives, emphasizes family and friendship when Casy tells his soon to be murderers that “You fellas don” know what you’re doin’. You’re helpin’ to starve kids” (Steinbeck 426). Steinbeck does a wonderful job using variations in diction to appeal to the reader, continuing his use of pathos that causes so much investment into his novel.
Steinbeck’s use of diction throughout his novel, along with his imagery, help set the melancholy, yet hopeful tone of the book. Steinbeck’s diction shifts between formal, abstract words used when describing scenery, and the colloquial, concrete words used in conversation. This allows the reader to identify and connect more with the Joads due to the diction shift during conversation. The tone is also affected due to the slightly looser sense the Joads conversations provide.
From the outset however, the tone takes on a somewhat depressed tone as Steinbeck describes the situation of dead crops on the farm: “Men stood by their fences and looked down at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men—to feel whether this time the men would break. ” (Steinbeck 3) This established tone showcases the difficulties the Joads and others faced that necessitated so much familial and friendly teamwork.
This is yet another example of Steinbeck’s use of pathos in his writing, as by describing the difficult situation the loads and migrant farmers are faced with, he appeals to the emotions of compassion and sympathy. As the Joads remain together, making it through rough times on their journey west, Steinbeck continues to use his tone to make the reader feel for the Joads. As characters die, such as Granma and Grampa and Rose of Sharon’s baby, Steinbeck shifts the tone to be more depressing, as not only is the atmosphere gloomy, but the Joad family is also rather melancholy.
Through all of this, the Joads continue to work together as a family and show how important family is. Rose of Sharon even extends that familial lifestyle by feeding a starving sick man her breast milk. Steinbeck does an excellent job of using tone effectively to engage the reader in the story and establish pathos. Throughout The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck is constantly using various rhetorical strategies to engage the reader and draw their attention.
Whether it is his brilliant use of tone, his contrasting diction, or his vivid imagery, Steinbeck is always using some form of pathos to keep the reader engaged and wanting more. This allows the reader to truly understand the familial bonds the Joads share, both with themselves and with others. Whether it is helping the sick, the poor, or their neighbors the Wainwrights, the loads always have a deep family connection that allows them to push onwards, no matter how tough life gets.