Essays On The Grapes Of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck

(Full name John Ernst Steinbeck Jr; also wrote under the pseudonym Amnesia Glasscock) American novelist, short story writer, essayist, poet, journalist, playwright, and screenwriter. See also The Chrysanthemums Criticism, John Steinbeck Short Story Criticisim, John Steinbeck Literary Criticisim (Volume 1), and Volumes 5, 9, 13, 21, 124.

The following entry presents criticism on Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is distinguished by its lucid prose, engaging naturalistic descriptions, forceful symbolism, and examination of the myth of America as Edenic paradise. Written after Steinbeck produced a series of articles for the San Francisco News about the mass exodus to California of thousands of Oklahoma and Arkansas farmers facing poverty and starvation due to the Great Depression and severe drought of the 1930s, The Grapes of Wrath caused an uproar of controversy and was one of the most commonly banned books of its time because of Steinbeck's obvious socialist sympathies. Nonetheless, the novel remains one of the most admired and studied works of social protest fiction of the twentieth century.

Plot and Major Characters

The Grapes of Wrath chronicles the migration of the Joad family, led by the matriarch Ma Joad, from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and Arkansas to the supposed Eden of California after drought and economic depression cause their small family farm to collapse. They are joined by Jim Casy, a former preacher, now disillusioned with religion, who sparks their evolution from a self-contained, self-involved family unit to a part of the migrant community that must work together for the greater good, and who inspires the Joads's son Tom to support the cause of the working poor. Interspersed among the chapters dealing specifically with the Joads are chapters in which Steinbeck took a broader, more universal approach to illustrate the full force of the tragedy of the migrant farmers—commonly and disparagingly referred to as “Okies” and “Arkies”—of the 1930s. Simultaneously symbolic and journalistic, these chapters provide a historical overview of the events of the time not only for the displaced farmers but also for American society as a whole, which, according to Steinbeck, must bear the responsibility and the consequences for its callous treatment of the working poor. During the course of their travels, the family's dog is hit by a car, and both of the grandparents die. Then Rose of Sharon, the Joads's pregnant daughter, is deserted by her husband. When the Joads—and all those like them—finally make their way to California, they expect to find themselves in a kind of paradise with plenty of well-paid work available. Instead they find an oversaturated work market where they are forced by hunger and desperation to work as scabs in migrant camps. Casy tries to organize the workers and is murdered by a thug who works for the farm owners, and Tom Joad, who has already violated his parole by leaving Oklahoma, must go into hiding after killing Casy's murderer. Finally, the migrants face a disastrous flood, during which Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn. In the ultimate affirmation of the Joads's recognition of their membership in the human family, Rose of Sharon gives her breast milk to a starving migrant man in order to save his life.

Major Themes

The Grapes of Wrath is in one sense a documentary account of American socioeconomic events of the 1930s. Photojournalists recorded the suffering of the people of the Dust Bowl region, and Steinbeck was strongly influenced by the widely published photographs, including those in the book You Have Seen Their Faces, by Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-White. Steinbeck's interest in the plight of farmers in the face of rapidly encroaching agribusiness and his sympathy for union organizers became important themes in the novel, along with the struggles of the average person against big business. But beyond the depiction of historical events is Steinbeck's symbolism. Jim Casy, although he is a reluctant preacher, serves as a Christlike figure, leading the Joads and the workers to consider the higher purposes of the community over their own individual interests. Ma Joad, with her considerable inner strength, and Rose of Sharon, particularly in the final scene of the novel, are earth-mother symbols who instinctively understand their roles as nurturers. This religious symbolism—both Christian and non-Christian—pervades the novel. Images of exodus, plague, and the search for paradise, as well as of the sanctity of the land, dominate the farmers' travels to the West.

Critical Reception

While The Grapes of Wrath is praised by most critics for the universality of its themes, it is sometimes faulted by others for excessive sentimentalism and melodrama. Initial reception of The Grapes of Wrath was distorted because the book caused a maelstrom of political controversy due to its castigation of agribusiness and the governmental system that contributed to the Dust Bowl predicament. The press and politicians attempted to discredit Steinbeck's book, accusing him of socialist sympathies. With its political implications now defused, critical study of The Grapes of Wrath has more recently focused on Steinbeck's religious and nature symbolism and the role of his female characters, which earlier critics had considered stereotypical and one-dimensional. But regardless of critical opinion, The Grapes of Wrath remains one of the most respected modern American novels.

The Grapes of Wrath Essays

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The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is set in the horrible stage of our American history, the Depression. Economic, social, and historical surroundings separate the common man of America into basically the rich and poor. A basic theme is that man turns against one another in a selfish pride to only protect themselves. For example, the landowners create a system in which migrants are treated like animals and pushed along from one roadside camp to the next. They are denied decent wages and forced to turn against their fellow scramblers to simply survive.

The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of two types of ‘families’ in that the Joads are a factual one and the body of migrant workers as the other. The Joads are actual blood…show more content…

Tom, though, is a very complicated individual who turns out to be a tremendous asset and burden to the family. His parole causes the family an unneeded worry, but does get work that helps the family. He is the main protagonist for his family and the main follower of Jim Casy's philosophy on human nature. Jim is much more of a talker and idealist, and he actually puts what he preached into action. Jim Casy is frequently compared with Jesus Christ and his lifestyle of preaching and leading people. As well as sacrificing himself for Tom and the Joad family which upholds his common held belief. Tom carries Jim’s message after his death and aids others with it. The Joad family, along with Jim Casy, shows the benefit of people uniting in order to accomplish goals and this is a lesson that the reader can take away from this novel.

The setting is so important to the novel because it sets the role and background of the characters. View of the Depression then come from a man just off of parole or a grandfather who is getting old and to weak to be the backbone of the family. The Depression that has hit nailed the common man and jobs are scarce. This is the binding factor between everyone in the novel - that most people are ‘down in the dumps.’
The main theme of the book is the ‘character’ of people in that time. How people bonded and rejected one another in a time of such hardship and demoralization. I think every character played a part in the

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