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Literature: Grapes of Wrath

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It is said that everything is done for a purpose, and if that purpose is not
obvious, it could be evident within oneself. In The Grapes of Wrath, by John
Steinbeck, the story not only entails the tale of the tragically poor, but also
an uplifting sense of discovery. The story tells not only of the physical
journey to California, but of the characters' spiritual travels as well. By
examining the lives of Jim Casy, Tom Joad, and Ma Joad, one will see the
enlightening changes that mark their lives through the depression. Jim Casy's
journey is an astounding one. He begins his life as a preacher, yet decides one
day that his work is invalid; sinful, in some way. He says to Tom, "'I used
ta get the people jumpin' an' talkin' in tongues, an' glory-shoutin' till they
just fell down an' passed out. . . An' then - you know what I'd do? I'd take one
of them girls out in the grass, an' I'd lay with her. Done it ever' time. Then
I'd feel bad, an' I'd pray an' pray, but it didn't do no good. Come the nex'
time, them an' me was full of the sperit, I'd do it again. I figgered there just
wasn't no hope for me, an' I was a damned ol' hypocrite. But I didn't mean to
be.'" (Page 28) He decides that he is not noble enough to continue his
work, and grows distempered when others ask him to preach the word of God. He
spends his time with the Joad family gratefully, but little else. He does no
real work to help them out; he spends most of his time thinking to himself.
Although Casy repeatedly confesses his guilt for doing nothing for the family,
he makes no real efforts to contribute, and remains on the sidelines. However,
when Tom trips a policeman that was threatening to take everyone to the station,
Casy takes the blame. "Casy turned to Al. 'Get out,' he said. 'Go on, get
out - to the tent. You don't know nothin'.' 'Yeah? How 'bout you?' Casy grinned
at him. 'Somebody got to take the blame. I got no kids. They'll jus' put me in
jail, an' I ain't doin' nothin' but set aroun'.' Al said, 'Ain't no reason for
-' Casy said softly, 'If you mess in this your whole fambly, all your folks,
gonna get in trouble. I don' care about you. But your ma and your pa, they'll
get in trouble. Maybe they'll send Tom back to McAlester.'" (Page 342) Casy
further strengthens his morals by becoming a rebel against the authorities. He
leads a strike against a pay decrease out of a peach farm, and when men come to
do him in, he doesn't step away, but simply pleads his case. "'Listen,' he
said. 'You fellas don' know what you're doin'. You're helpin' to starve kids.'
'Shut up, you red son-of-a-bitch.' A short heavy man stepped into the light. He
carried a new white pick handle. Casy went on, 'You don' know what you're a-doin'.'"(page
495) Even as he sees the man means to do him harm, he stands his ground. He goes
from a man who felt he had no role to play in life to a martyr for the poor and
hungry. His journey is one of courage and light. Tom is a rough edged man at the
beginning of the novel. He has killed a man, and yet, seems to feel no remorse.
His reasoning behind the slaying is also less than dignified. "'I been in
McAlester them four years.' 'Ain't wanting to talk about it, huh?' (Casy asked)
'I won't ask you no questions, if you done something bad -' 'I'd do what I done
- again,' said Joad. 'I killed a guy in a fight. We was drunk at a dance. He got
a knife in me, an' I killed him with a shovel that was layin' there. Knocked his
head plumb to squash.' Casy's eyebrows resumed their normal level. 'You ain't
ashamed of nothin' then?' 'No,' said Joad. 'I ain't. I got seven years, account
of he had a knife in me. Hot out in four - parole.'" (Page 33) He seems to
perceive his misconduct as a ritual of life everyone must undergo, and this lack
of conscience shows one with little character or worthiness. However, when he
finds his family at his Uncle John's place, he dedicates his life to helping out
the family and himself. He works on the car, towards finding work, and to
comfort Ma when she seems to need it. His personality lightens as he becomes a
vital part of the Joad clan. However, when he finds Casy striking out, and
witnesses his death, his natural instincts come out, and he kills Casy's
assassin, thereby getting himself into even more trouble than he was in before
for breaking his parole. "Tom looked down at the preacher. The light
crossed the heavy man's legs and the white new pick handle. Tom leaped silently.
He wrenched the club free. The first time he knew he had missed and struck a
shoulder, but the second time his crushing blow found the head, and as the heavy
man sank down, three more blows found his head." (Page 495) The repeated
blows demonstrate a lack of control possessed by Tom, yet, his manner for
killing the man are slightly more justified than the man at the dance. The
differences between the two killings already demonstrate an enlightening of
Tom's character. When Tom goes to tell his mother that he cannot stay for fear
of the family, his words show his complete metamorphosis. "'Tom,' Ma
repeated, 'what you gonna do?' 'What Casy done,' he said. . . Ma said, 'How'm I
gonna know about you?' 'Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain't got a soul of
his own, but on'y a piece of a big one - an' then -' 'Then what, Tom?' 'Then it
don' matter. . . Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be
there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. If Casy knowed,
why I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an' - I'll be in the way kids
laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat
the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build - why, I'll be
there.'" (Page 537) He decides to dedicate his life towards the fight of
the hungry and oppressed and cares little for trivialities any longer. His
journey is a spiritual one that could not have been assessed without Casy's
help. Ma Joad is a character that can be over looked due to her sex and seeming
minimal interaction in the novel. Can be over looked, but shouldn't be. Ma
represents the spiritual glue that binds the family through triumph and turmoil.
In the beginning, Ma is seen as the typical housewife; she cooks, cleans and
looks after the children. She is a somewhat docile creature that follows her
husband's word with little question. Her first stand against the men in the
family is the first real threat of the family splitting apart. When a neighbor's
car breaks down, Tom offers to fix it and have the family move on. Ma grabs a
jack handle and states she will not go; that she will hit her husband if he
tries to make her. "Pa looked helplessly about the group. 'She sassy,' he
said. 'I never seen her so sassy.' . . .Tom said, 'Ma, what's eatin' on you?
What ya wanna do this-a-way for? What's the matter'th you anyways? You gone
johnrabbit on us?' Ma's face softened, but her eyes were still fierce. 'You done
this 'thout thinkin' much,' Ma said. 'What we got lef' in the worl'? Nothin' but
the folks. We come out an' Grampa, he reached for the shovel-shelf right off.
An' now, right off, you wanna bust up the folks -'" (page 218) She fights
against the norm in order to preserve her family, who is all she has left. Here
she gains respect. "The eyes of the whole family shifted back to Ma. She
was the power. She had taken control." (Page 218) Her strength throughout
the ordeal is amazing. She hides her pain and anguish from the others and deals
with their problems rather than hers. She even lies with Granma's corpse in
order to get the family across to California. "'I was afraid we wouldn' get
acrost,' she said. 'I tol' Granma we couldn' he'p her. The fambly had to get
acrost. I tol' her, tol' her when she was a-dyin'. We couldn' stop in the
desert. There was the young ones - an' Rosasharn's baby. I tol' her.' . . . The
family looked at Ma with a little terror at her strength. Tom said, 'Jesus
Christ! You layin' there with her all night long!' 'The fambly hadda get acrost,'
Ma said miserably." (Page 294) Her dedication to the family is remarkable.
She becomes dedicated to their new lives, and develops a new insight on life.
"'You got to have patience. Why, Tom - us people will go on livin' when all
them people is gone. Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe
us out. Why, we're the people - we go on.'" (Page 360) Her strength and
power unfold throughout the story and her journey is one of survival. She
evolves to become the strongest pillar in the Joad family. Steinbeck's The
Grapes of Wrath is a novel that enables one relate to the struggles of
humankind. Yet it is his evolution of the characters that takes on a great
impact as one can witness the transitions in a human's whole being that occurs
after heartache and misery unfold. Through Casy's, Tom's and Ma's own spiritual
journeys, one can see that there are brighter things that arise from tragedy.
That although situations may be at their bleakest, one adapts, and may even turn
out better than he or she started out. It is a shame that horrid situations are
the ones that urge people to change their lives, but it is at least enlightening
to see that the majority of these changes are for the better.
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