Naturalism in The Grapes of Wrath
In John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family and the changing world in which they live is portrayed from a naturalistic point of view. Steinbeck characterizes the Joads and their fellow migrants as simple, instinct-bound creatures who are on an endless search for paradise (Owens 129). The migrants and the powers which force them to make their journey--nature and society--are frequently represented by animals. The Joads, when they initially leave home, are a group of simplistic, animal-like people who barely understand or even realize their plight, but as the story progresses, they begin to grow and adapt to their new circumstances. They evolve from a small, insignificant group of creatures with no societal consciousness into a single member of a much larger family--society.
Steinbeck strongly portrays the Joads and other displaced "Okies" as being animalistic. They often talk about their predicament in simplistic terms that suggest that they are initially not conscious of the circumstances that force them to leave Oklahoma. Muley Graves, for instance, tells Tom Joad and Jim Casy that the rest of the Joads, whose house has been destroyed by a tractor, are "piled in John's house like gophers in a winter burrow (Steinbeck 47)." This presents the image of a family of animals that have clustered together, hoping to fend off a predator with their greater numbers. They see the societal problems around them in terms of a predator as well; on one occasion, Casy asks a man at a service station, "You ever seen one a them Gila monsters take hold, mister? (Chop him in two) an' his head hangs on. An' while he's layin' there, poison is drippin' into the hole he's made (Steinbeck 132)." This refers to the devastating, unbreakable grip of the socioeconomic forces at work above them (Lisca 96). A particularly important element that represents the migrants on a naturalistic level is the turtle (Lisca 97)....
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