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Grapes of Wrath1

The Grapes of Wrath – Joads Journey-
Through out history man has made many journeys, far and wide.
Moses’s great march through the Red Sea and Columbus’s transversing
the Atlantic are only, but a few of mans great voyages. Even today,
great journeys are being made. Terry Fox’s run across Canada while
having cancer is one of these such journeys. In every one of these
instances people have had to rise above themselves and over come
emence odds, similar to a salmon swimming up stream to fullfill it’s
life line. Intense drive and extreme fortitude are qualities they had
to possess during their travels. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck
shows the Joads endurance by his use of extended metaphors in
Steinbeck uses intercalary chapters to provide background for the
various themes in the novel. This effectively forshadows upcoming
events by telling of the general state of the local population in the
intercalary chapters and then narrowing it down to how it effects the
main characters of the novel, the Joads. Setting the tone of the novel
in the readers mind is another function of Steinbeck’s intercalary
In chapter three, Steinbeck emaculatly describes the long tedious
journey of a land turtle across a desolate highway. From the onset of
his journey, the turtle encounters many set backs. All along the way
he is hindered by ants, hills, and oak seeds under his shell. The
turtles determination to reach his destination is most apparent when a
truck driven by a young man swerves to hit the turtle. The turtle’s
shell was clipped and he went flying off the highway, but stop the
turtle did not. He struggled back to his belly and kept driving toward
his goal, just as the Joads kept driving toward their goal.
Much like the turtle from chapter three, the Joads had to face
many great hardships in their travels. The planes of Oklahoma, with
their harsh summer weather, was the Joads desolate highway. The truck
driver represented the Californians, whom Buried food and killed live
stock to keep the Joads and others like them away from their dream.
And sickness was their ants and hills. But even through all of this
the Joads persevered. They were driven by great motivating powers –
poverty and hunger. Just as the turtle searched for food, the Joads
were searching for paradise, “the garden of Eden.”
The Joad’s journey is second to none in terms of adversity and
length. The Joads incredible ability to over come all odds and keep
going is epitomized in intercalary chapter three. Steinbeck uses his
rendition of facts, the “turtle” chapter, to parallel the Joads
struggle to reach the promise land. Just as the turtle endured, so did
the Joads. Never digressing from their strait and narrow path to
The Grapes of Wrath is an eye-opening novel which deals with the struggle for survival
of a migrant family of farmers in the western United States. The book opens with a
narrative chapter describing Oklahoma, and the overall setting. It sets the mood of an
area which has been ravished by harsh weather. “The sun flared down on the growing
corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet.
The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so
the earth became pale, pink in the red country, and white in the gray country.”
(Steinbeck pg.3) Steinbeck, in a detailed fashion described the area in great detail. Not
only was the area stricken by a drought and extreme temperatures, but to add to the
difficulties, the families of the area were bombarded by high winds and dust storms
which barraged their houses, crops, and moral. The idea was made clear, quite early,
that the farming plains of Oklahoma were a cruel and difficult place for a family to make
The reader is first introduced to a character by the name of Tom Joad, a man who has
been released early from the penitentiary on parole after serving four years of his seven
year sentence. Tom, once released, begins the trip back home to his family on their
forty acre farming estate. Tom, through the aid of a helpful truck driver, is given a ride
to the general area of his house. It is interesting to see how Tom manages to hitch a
ride with the truck driver, who under normal circumstances, would not have given any
rides to hitch hikers, simply due to a sticker on his cab which reads “No Riders.” Tom
however, through cunning reasoning skills, is able to get what he needs. “Can you give
me a lift mister,” said Tom. “Didn’t you see the No Riders sticker on the wind
shield?,”the driver proclaimed. “Sure, I seen it. But sometimes a guy will be a good guy
even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.”(Steinbeck 11) Technically, if
the driver refused, he would not be a “good” guy , and if he took the hitch-hiker, he
would be a “good” guy, and would prove that he was not one whom a rich boss could
kick around. Through his actions in the opening scenes, we learn a little bit about Tom
Joad, and what he is like as a person.
Once Tom is dropped off, he meets up with an old minister named Jim Casey. The
reader momentarily learns of Jim’s inner struggle before he joins Tom in accompanying
him back to his house. Meanwhile, the Joad’s (tenant farmers) were being evicted from
their house by the owner of the land, and were making plans for a trip to move in with
Upon the arrival of Tom and Jim, they are quick to discover, through the knowledge of
Muley, an old friend of Tom, that his family has already left, but were unable to reach
him to let him know what was happening to them.
Tom and Jim eventually catch up to the family at Uncle Tom’s cabin and are greeted
with open arms. Soon after their arrival, the family is once again forced to leave. After
purchasing a truck, the family heads for California in the search of a home and work,
but not without a struggle with Grandpa who does not wish to leave. The family is
forced to drug him to bring him along, only for him to later die along the way of a
Casey decides to come along with the family while still struggling with his internal
conflict. As the trip lengthens, the family meets up with the Mr. and Mrs. Wilson one
night along the side of the road. The two families befriend each other and continue the
trip west together. Both families continue to travel west together until they are
separated when Mrs. Wilson becomes fatally ill, which forces the Wilsons to stay
behind. The struggle of the Joad’s is becoming more and more apparent now as they
experience the realities of life. Cruel police officers, cunning salesmen, and ignorant
people all add to the total picture and struggle the family is enduring, and bring the
reality of the entire situation to a front. Grandma dies, as well as Rose of Sharon’s baby
which only adds to the trouble. Connie eventually walks out on Rose, and Noah Joad
gives up on the thought of going west, and abandons the family to remain by a river in
which the family had stopped. By this time, Ma Joad, who has struggled so hard to
keep the family together, has become frightfully aware that the family is falling apart.
The reader gets the impression that all has turned for the worst as Jim Casey is
murdered, and Tom, due to avenging Jim’s death is forced into hiding all of while the
lack of jobs and appropriate wages still overshadows the family.
Once the family reaches California, their hopes and dreams are basically shattered.
Although briefly employed for descent pay, wages are slashed, and the hard times
become even worse. With lack of money, possessions, and an adequate food supply,
the family finally hits rock bottom when torrential rains flood their makeshift boxcar
home, destroying their truck, and once again sending them on the run.
There are many characters that played a vital role in the development of the Grapes of
Wrath. Each and every character has something to add to the book as a whole.
Tom Joad is an assertive person who does not like to be pushed around. He served four
years in prison for killing a man, who he insists was killed in self-defense. Tom is quite
influential as demonstrated in his actions of hitching a ride with the trucker, as well as
the fact that Al Joad tries to impersonate him. Al had gained much notoriety for the
fact that he was the brother of a man who had killed another man. This influence
makes Al walk with a swagger as if to show off. The fact that Tom had murdered
someone only proved a hindrance to the family, as they often had to make appropriate
accommodations for him throughout the trip.
Ma Joad was an emotionally strong woman who kept the family united (her primary
concern), through the difficulties they faced. Ma Joad never showed pain, nor fear, and
greatly suppressed her emotions for the sake of the family. Ma Joad was a giving
person who would do anything for someone in need as demonstrated in her giving up
the soup to some of the starving children of the camp they were residing in, even
though her family was in great need of the food.
Grandpa Joad did not necessarily play an important role to the novel, but played a role
in symbolizing an ideal that Steinbeck was trying to portray. Grandpa Joad was a man
of his land as proved in his refusal to leave that which was his. Upon the families
removal of the land, the house in which they lived, once filled with life, would succumb
to the elements of nature and neglect. Just as the house dies when the Joad’s are
removed from the land, Grandpa dies as the house is removed from his life. The house
and the land was all that he had to live for, it was all that he understood, and when it
was taken from his life, he had nothing left to live for.
Jim Casey is an interesting character from the novel that is struggling with himself with
an internal conflict. Jim, a former minister, is troubled by the guilty conscious he
receives when he would lay in the grass with a particular female pupil of his after
Sunday class. He questions how the act could be such a sin if only the holiest females
seem to partake in such an activity. Throughout the novel, Jim is met by certain
situations which aid is his continuous enlightenment. Jim abandons his holy ways to
realize that it is not the abstract aspects of life that matter as much as the actions of
living humans. He rejects the idea of surrounding himself in God’s soul, but the souls of
human beings, each whom combined create a much holier soul. Jim is so intent on
realizing this, that even when standing next to the dying Mrs. Wilson, resists her wish
for his prayers. He simply is trying to separate himself from the idea of God as much as
possible, which was further expressed when he was forced by the Joad’s to say
something upon Grandpa’s death. Jim, in sticking to his new philosophy of recognizing
the importance of life over death represents these feelings in his words for Grandpa. “All
that lives is holy, Grandpa is dead, and he doesn’t need much said.” (Steinbeck 184) Jim
Casey pursued these ideals right to his death as he was in the process of attempting to
organize the migrant workers to unite in numbers to gain power.
There are many aspects of this book which, combined, make it the great novel it
proved to be. Steinbeck’s use of the intermittent narrative chapters give the reader a
greater idea of what is going on, all of while pulling the entire picture of the novel
together. Each little chapter, in its own sense, teaches, or makes the reader further
aware of an aspect that might not normally be interpreted, or realized through the
regular chapters alone which Steinbeck uses as a tool to further develop and express
his ideas. For example, chapter 3 expresses the struggle of a turtle trying to get across
the highway. An ignorant reader might take the chapter literally, missing the underlying
message that Steinbeck is trying to reveal. As the turtle attempts to cross the road,
he is twice nearly crushed by passing motorists, and is flung off the road by a motorist
who tried unsuccessfully to purposefully squash the turtle in it’s tracks. The turtle, in
actuality, completes a micro/macrocosm constructed by Steinbeck. The turtle struggles
to cross the street while looking failure in the eyes from both the ignorant driver, and
the driver who tried to squash him. So what is Steinbeck trying to tell us? The ignorant
driver symbolizes those who, not knowingly, are killing the lives of the migrant workers,
including those of the Joad’s. These unsuspecting people include the plantation owners
who jack up prices and cut wages ignorant of the havoc they cause to their workers,
as well as the land owners who evict the families not aware of what they will have to
go through to survive. Those who intentionally are out to hurt the migrant workers are
represented by the police officers who try to shut down their tent cities keeping them
on the move and out of their area. They are also represented by those who
intentionally try to swindle the migrant workers by charging ridiculously high prices for
goods and services. The officers are fully aware of what their actions will do, but do
not care, as the downfall of the migrant workers is their only concern.
Steinbeck wrote this book for one reason; to make the plight and difficulties of the
migrant workers known to all of America. He accomplished this by telling the story from
the viewpoint of a particular family, rather then the migrant workers as a whole.
Steinbeck showed what these people went through from their eviction from their home,
to their eventually self-destruction and failure as a family. Once the appropriate focus
on the Joad’s had been reached, it was then possible for Steinbeck to tie it all together
by bringing the entire situation into view. This was possible through the demonstration
of the workers establishing a common ground with each other. Once the strength of
the inner family had been established, a family of families could be constructed. The
story went from “I lost my land” to “We lost our land.” It showed just what the life of a
migrant worker was all about; for example the establishing of a common ground within
one another. The migrant workers were a group of people who were looking out for
each other and willing to work together, as survival during these periods proved tough
and could not be accomplished without teamwork. This is simply why the migrant
workers found ways to successfully govern themselves throughout their tent cities
which is why they looked to establish a common ground. Times were tough, and that
constant harassment of police organizations only worsened the situation.
It was clearly evident that the Joad’s like any of the migrant workers were looking out
for one other and would do anything if one was in need. Nothing exemplifies this ideal
more then the closing scene of the novel. Rose, surrounded by a family overshadowed
by personal loss, lack of income and food, in a period of dying (metaphorically
speaking), gives life to a dying stranger regardless of who he was, or where he came
from. This is what true life to the migrant workers was all about, and this is what they
had demonstrated time and time again.
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