Symbolism in the Grapes of Wrath
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During the depression of the 1930's, the combined evils of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drought left many southern farming families landless and weak. Little hope was left for them but to pack up and moved to California, which was widely advertised in circulated handbills that promised work and inspired hope. John Steinbeck’s epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the migrant farmers’ travels and what they met at their destination. Intertwined within the plot and the intercalary chapters of the story is a profound use of symbolism in various forms and with many meanings. John Steinbeck deeply incorporates symbolism into the characters and plot of The Grapes Of Wrath to convey the adversity and the attitudes of the migrant farmers as well as other people involved in and effected by the dust bowl migration of the 1930's.
The journey of the land turtle in the opening of the novel is a near direct representation of the travels of the dust bowl migrants. The turtle, just like the migrants, embarks on a slow, yet steady journey in a clear direction with an unclear destination. Both meet several obstacles on the way, the turtle meets a hard to climb embankment, the migrants meet troubles with their cars and terrain. There are those who make the migrants’ journeys much more impossible such as deputies and salesmen, the turtle meets the truck that nearly causes its death. And when the turtle is on its back, just as the migrants lives are void of all hope, slowly, but surely they get themselves upright and back on track.
Jim Casey, the retired preacher introduced early in the plot is a symbol of transcendentalism, the idea of the Emersonian over soul, that all people are part of one great spirit, and serves as a Christ figure in the novel. He frequently refers to this single, great soul of the world, “maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of”(33). Casy’s role as a Christ figure in the novel fits very well into the journey of Christ portrayed in the bible. He takes a trek into the woods to sort things out, he followed the Joads on their journey west to help people along the way, “I got to go where the folks are goin’,” and sacrifices himself to the deputy in California to save Floyd and Tom for their aggression against the deputy(127).
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Casy embodies the concept of the unity of mankind in The Grapes Of Wrath. He says, “It’s all work, they’s way too much of it to split up to men’s or women’s work,” meaning that everyone must share life’s problems and share the work(146).
The idea of sharing and equality, this emersonian oversoul, among the migrants in the novel is represented through characters such as Casy, Muley Graves, and Sairy Wilson. Casy expresses this concept through his desire to be with the people, to go where they need him and give a helping hand however he can. Muley, although he cannot explain the feeling, is compelled to share his meager meal with Casy and Tom Joad. He knows that he cannot rightfully deny the two men of some of his food, “I ain’t got no choice in the matter...I mean, s’pose I pick up my rabbits an’ go off somewheres an’ eat em’. See?,” he says(66). While Tom is mainly focused on curbing his appetite, both Muley and Casy reflect upon this idea, that one cannot justly eat while others are hungry. Sairy Wilson, a migrant in a similar situation to the Joads, offers her help and compassion to Grandpa while he is dying. She gives up her time, attention, care, and the use of a tent and blanket to help her fellow humans, and thinks nothing of it. She speaks of this obligation to assist those in need, “We’re proud to help. I ain’t felt so-safe in a long time. People needs-to help”(192). Steinbeck uses these characters to symbolize this community, this one big family, among the migrants of this era and situation.
Grandpa and Muley show the near unbreakable attachment to the land of the dust bowl farmers. Muley, his ties to his home so strong, cannot even stay with his family if it means leaving Oklahoma where he was born, raised, and inevitably will die, “fella gits to thinkin’, an’ he gits to knowin’. I ain’t never goin’(151).” Muley is not only a symbol of the tie to the land, but the way of life that the migrants are leaving behind. Grandpa too cannot bear to leave his homeland, “this here’s my country. I b’long here(152).” His death is a symbol of the stronger ties to the land that the older people had. Young people can start new lives in new places, but old ones like Grandpa cannot. Casy explains that what killed Grandpa was not a stroke but being torn from his home, “Your way was fixed and Grandpa didn’ have no part in it...He’s jus’ stayin’ with the lan’. He couldn’ leave it(199).”
The car salesmen represent and foreshadow the exploitation of the migrants along their journey to California by those in much more advantageous positions. In saying, “there’s a dumb-bunny lookin’ at that Chrysler. Find out if he got and jack in his jeans,” the car salesmen show the lack of concern for the farmers’ well-being on the part of others(88). Merely interested in the farmers’ money, the salesmen trick the confused people for their own personal advancement.
This trickery on the part of the salesmen leads to the exploitation of the farmers in California by the wealthy growers and landowners. “I didn’t set the price...If you want it, take it. If you don’t, turn right around and go along,” the growers show no concern for the migrants and let them near starve(538). As long as the people are still picking their crops, the landowners don’t care how hungry their slave-like workers are.
The migrants in The Grapes of Wrath endure many hardships along the way to and in California, and John Steinbeck uses symbolism to describe the hardships and the attitudes of those involved in this great migration.
The Use of Symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
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The Use of Symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath is a novel by John Steinbeck that in my opinion illustrates the terrible conditions under which the migratory farm families of America during the 1930's were forced to live under. This novel in a very descriptive and emotional way tells of one family's migration west to California from Oklahoma (the Joad family) through the great economic depression of the 1930's. The story revolves around the family having to abandon their home and their livelihood. They had to uproot and set out across America to California because tractors were very quickly industrializing their farms, and the bank took possession of their land because the owners could not pay off…show more content…
The dust is symbolic of the erosion of the lives of the people. It's also related to deadness. The land has become a ruined way of life. The farming is gone, and the people are uprooted and forced to leave their homes. The soil, as well as the people, have been drained of life, and have been exploited by big banks and businesses. "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 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 migrant's struggles against nature and man by overcoming every obstacle he comes across: the red ant in his path, the truck driver who tries to run over him, and being captured in Tom Joad's jacket. And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and tried to hit the poor thing. The driver of the truck works for a large company. His company tries to stop the migrants from going west. When the driver attempts to hit the turtle, I think it's