poses the desperate conditions underwhich the migratory farm families of America during the 1930’s live under. The novel tellsof the Joad family’s migration west to California through the great economic depression ofthe 1930’s. The tries and tribulations of the Joad family stretches to a greater concern forthe family of man than for a selfish concern of themselves. The Joad family begins their westward journey in Oklahoma, a place where manymen and women became migrant farmers.
These people received the name “Okie” becauseof their place of origin. The Joads traveled in two heavily loaded and packed-up trucks. The first sign of the family’s selfish behavior is the death of grandpa Joad. He was a man ofgreat pride, and though he longed to taste of the grapes of California, his stubbornness notto leave home may have caused his death, but his lack of concern for his family shows thathe did not care for much else other than himself and the farm. Yet along the trip there are many members of the family that stand out in self-conceit.
One person is Tom Joad, one of Ma and Pa Joad’s children. He has recently beenreleased from prison and seems to be concerned only for himself. He wakes each morningonly wanting work for money and food for his stomach. But throughout the novel Tomlearns many lessons, especially of those by Jim Casy, his old preacher-friend.
Jim Casy, aman representative of Jesus Christ in both his initials “J. C. ” and in his beliefs. The preacheris the one character that throughout the novel always knows what he must do: to helpthose less fortunate fight in anyway possible in order to get what they deserve.
Tragically,Jim Casy is killed by a police officer while trying to protect Tom. From this incident, Tom Spano 2Joad learns that he must lead the crusade that Jim had died for. In this movement ofTom’s, he finally understands what it means too help someone other than himself. Another key player in the novel is Ma Joad. A strong woman and the true leader ofthe Joad family she, too, has her faults. Though she does not care so much for her ownwell-being, she in turn performs selfish acts for her family.
At every chance she gets, MaJoad is ready to help her kin, but it is not without price that she does so. In the firstportion of her journey, Ma Joad turns away a hungry, young couple. But as she continueson her journey, she sees more and more how the Okies are forced to live and how theymust endure such sufferings. Towards the end of the novel, the Joad family is in a broken-down and pest infested camp. In this place Ma Joad makes a soup for the family to eat. But the aromatic smell of good food travels through the camp bringing to Ma Joad nearlyfifteen starving children, all of whom haven’t seen or smelled such delicious victuals inquite a long time.
In that moment, with the eyes of the young ones staring up at her, MaJoad acts in a completely selfless manner. She feeds all the children before her family evengets a taste. That simple action showed that every single person could find some decencyin themselves to help others. Lastly, one of the “whiniest” of the lot– Rose of Sharon, who complains of herpains and pregnancy and anything else she could possibly whine about– stands for themajority of the family’s selfishness.
Her husband, Connie, takes each day in stride, trying todeal with her incessant complaining. But finally one day Connie falls to his own selfishnature and walks out on his wife and un-born child. This only adds to Rose of Sharon’slong list of complaints. She causes all the members of the family to become quite annoyedwith her, for on many occasions she is said to be whining constantly. But Rose of Sharonis not a complete disappointment. Towards the finale of the novel, Sharon gives birth– butto a still-born and shriveled baby boy.
This catastrophe is due to Sharon’s malnutrition. But in the very conclusion of the novel, the Joads arrive upon a near-dead man lying in a Spano 3barn. It is apparent that he will die without aide. Then, without any goading frombystanders, Rose of Sharon lies next to the man and reveals her breast which is filled withmilk from her ill-fated pregnancy. She feeds the man from herself. She gives to one humanbeing a part of her body in order for him to survive.
In this act by Rose of Sharon, allloose ends come together and the family is shown as one universal unit instead of asolidarity. The opening chapter paints a vivid picture of the situation facing the drought-stricken farmers of Oklahoma. Dust is described as covering everything, smothering thelife out of anything that wants to grow. The dust is symbolic of the erosion of the lives ofthe people.
The dust is synonymous with “deadness”. The land is ruined away of life–people uprooted and forced to leave. Secondly, the dust stands for profiteering banks inthe background that squeeze the life out the land by forcing the people off of that land. The soil and the people have been drained of life and are exploited. The Grapes of Wrath combines Steinbeck’s adoration of the land, his simple hatredof corruption resulting from materialism and his abiding faith in the common people toovercome their hostile environment.
The novel opens with a retaining picture of nature onrampage. The novel shows the men and women that are unbroken by nature, their bodiesdestroyed but their spirit is not broken. The method used to develop the theme of thenovel is through the use of symbolism. An example of this method is the description of aturtle, which appears and reappears several times early in the novel, can be seen to standfor 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 and the Joads. The turtle further represents the migrants struggles against natureand man by overcoming all the obstacles which are thrown before them.
The grapes of California seem to symbolize both bitterness and abundance. Grandpa is the oldest member of the Joad family talks of the grapes as symbols of plenty; Spano 4all his descriptions of what he is going to do with the grapes in California suggestcontentment, freedom, the goal for which the Joad family strive for: “I’m gonna let thejuice run down ma face, bath in the dammed things. ” The grapes that are talked about byGrandpa help to elaborate the theme by showing that no matter how nice everything seemsin California the truth is that their beauty is only skin deep, for in their souls they arerotten. The issue is of the rotten core verses the beautiful appearance, and the rotten coreis Granpa Joad’s death because he still can not come to terms with leaving his land andtasting of those magnificent grapes he spoke of. Also, the willow tree that is located on the Joad’s farm represents the Joad familyin a symbolic sense.
The willow is described as being unmovable and never bending to thewind or dust. The Joad family does not want to move, they prefer to stay on the land theygrew up on, much the same as the willow does. The willow contributes to the theme byshowing the unwillingness of the people to be removed from their land by the banks. Thelatter represents the force making them leave their homes.
Both of these symbols show astruggle between each other. The tree struggles against nature in much the same way thatthe Joad family struggles against the Bank and large companies. The rains that comes at the end of the novel symbolize several things. Rain inwhich is excessive, in a certain way fulfills a cycle of the dust which is also excessive. In away nature has restored a balance and has initiated a new growth cycle. This ties in withother examples of the rebirth idea in the ending, much in the way the Joad family will growagain.
The rain contributes to the theme by showing the cycle of nature that give aconclusion to the novel by showing that life is a pattern of birth and death. The rain isanother example of nature against man, the rain comes and floods the living quarters of theJoads. The Joads try to stop the flooding of their home, but yet again are forced backwhen nature drops a tree causing a surge of water to ruin their home and forces them tomove. In an opposite way, rain can also be helpful and give life to plants that need the Spano 5water to live. Depending on which extreme the rain is in, it can be harmful or helpful. Thisis true for man, man can become both extremes– bad or good– depending on hischoosing.
In closing, their journey west was filled with one tragic let-down after another. Butthrough every kind and generous action performed on the part of a Joad family member,each one grew closer and closer to the entire new-found philosophy of caring for others asmuch as oneself. This idea is profoundly evident and witnessed in the family; they are nolonger in concern for themselves but have found a place in the kindred of mankind.