Essay, Research Paper: Grapes Of Wrath

Literature: Grapes of Wrath

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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
lived. The novel tells of one family's migration west to California through the
great economic depression of the 1930's. 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, and how they survive the cruelty of the
landowners that took 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 as 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 a ruined way of
life (farming), 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. As the book continues a turtle, which appears and
reappears several times early in the novel, can be seen as standing 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 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. Steadily the turtle advances on, ironically to the southwest,
the direction of the migration 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. The driver of the truck, red ant, and
Tom Joad's jacket are all symbolic of nature and man trying 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. 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 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 come at
the end of the novel symbolize several things. Rain in that 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 gives 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. In opposite ways rain can be
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 either 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 Joads' as they make
there journey through the novel to the West. I would definitely recommend this
book to anyone interested in the history of our country and the Great
Depression. It was a long novel, but you could feel the story because Steinbeck
was writing about his own time period, not his ancestors or his children, but
something he actually lived through.

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