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The Grapes of Wrath


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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