The Grapes Of Wrath - Economic Battle

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.

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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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