Essay, Research Paper: Grapes Of Wrath By Steinbeck

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
live under. The novel tells of one families migration west to California through
the great economic depression of the 1930's. The Joad family had to abandon
their home and their livelihoods. They had to uproot and set adrift because
tractors were rapidly industrializing their farms. 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. How they survive the cruelty of
the land owners that take 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 a 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 ruined ^way of
life (farming) gone, 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. (Chp 1) As the chapter continues a turtle, which appears
and reappears several times early in the novel, can be seen to stand 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 farmer migrants (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. Everything the turtle encounters trys its
best to stop the turtle from making its westerly journey. Steadily the turtle
advances on, ironically to the southwest, the direction of the mirgration 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.
(Chp 1) The driver of the truck, red ant and Tom Joad's jacket are all symbolic
of nature and man the try 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: I'm gonna
let the juice run down ma face, bath in the dammed grapes (Chp 4) 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 rotten core verses the
beautiful appearance. 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 comes at the end of the novel symbolize several
things. Rain in which 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 give 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. The Joads try to stop the flood of their home by yet
again are forced back when nature drops a tree causing a flood of water to ruin
their home forcing them to move. In opposite way rain can 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 both 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 people (migrants) as they make there journey through
the novel to the West.
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