Essay, Research Paper: Grapes Of Wrath

Literature: Grapes of Wrath

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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 a successful living. 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 b&%#@rd 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 Uncle Tom. 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 massive
stroke. 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 wadges still overshadows
the family. Once the family reaches California, their hopes and dreams are
basically shattered. Although briefly employed for descent pay, wadges 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 who 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 who 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, 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 migrants workers, including those of the Joad's. These unsuspecting people
include the plantation owners who jack up prices and cut wadges 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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