The Grapes of Wrath

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1 Introduction

This seminar paper tries to give some insight into the biblical structure of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. The reason why I chose this novel is that I am really fascinated by Steinbeck's style of writing which varies from symbolic to allegorical. After I have finished reading The Grapes of Wrath, which I consider to be one of the most effective social documents of the 1930s, I started thinking about which aspects would be the most interesting to concentrate on. Before I actually started reading books on John Steinbeck and his novels I was sure that in my paper I will deal with Christian parallels and biblical allusions. I must admit that it was a big problem to get information on this topic because most of the books only dealt with the social structure and the historical background of the novel. Therefore most of the assumptions made in this paper are based on my thoughts and interpretations, which are accompanied by various quotations taken out of Steinbeck's novel.

In the first part of this paper I will deal with the construction of the novel. The similarities between the three well-marked divisions of the novel – drought, journey, and sojourn in California – and the ancient biblical events will be discussed in detail. In chapter 3 the biblical symbolisms of the grapes of wrath, the flood and the snake will be analysed. In the chapters 4 and 5 the major and minor characters of the novel will be dealt with in terms of biblical allusions and Christian symbolisms.
2 Construction of the novel

The Grapes of Wrath is divided into thirty chapters, fourteen of which carry the Joad story. To every chapter dealing with the Joads, Steinbeck adds a shorter, more general, but often not less powerful chapter on the general situation. These sixteen so-called interchapters present the social, economic and historical background, telling the story of all the migrants. The novel's three well-marked divisions – the drought, the journey, and sojourn in California – correspond to oppression in Egypt, exodus, and settlement in Canaan. In the bibles book of Exodus, Moses guided thousands of people (God's family, the Israelites) out of severe slavery and harsh treatment in Egypt. From there he led them into the promised land of Canaan that flowed with milk and honey. In The Grapes of Wrath the members of the Joad family are the struggling Israelites, Casy acts as a leader who directs the Joads out of famine and hard times during the 1930's in Oklahoma and into California where they can begin a new life with hope and future.

The first section ends with chapter 10. It is separated from the second section, the journey, by two interchapters. The first of these chapters presents a picture of the deserted land – "The houses were left vacant on the land, and the land was vacant because of this" (Steinbeck 1976: 148). The second interchapter is devoted to Highway 66 and is followed up by chapter 13, which begins the Joads' journey – "The ancient overloaded Hudson creaked and grunted to the highway at Sallisaw and turned west, and the sun was blending" (Steinbeck 1976: 157). The journey section ends with chapter 18, "And the truck rolled down the mountain into the great valley" (Steinbeck 1976: 296), and the next chapter begins the California section by introducing the reader to labor conditions in that state.

2.1 The drought

The drought and erosion are the plagues of Egypt, the banks and land companies are Pharao and the Egyptian oppressors. The Joads are forced off the land by the banks and the large farming interests, which can farm the land much more cheaply and efficiently than individual tenant farmers. The agricultural corporations found it more profitable to combine many farms into one plantation, and put it all to cotton.

In Oklahoma the dust filtered into every house and settled on everything, as in one of the Egyptian plagues the...
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