Ideas and actions taken by the characters in The Grapes of Wrath prove the role of humans to help each other is a necessity. Jim Casy is a radical philosopher and a unifier of men, he presumably assumes the role of Jesus Christ in the novel. In the beginning, Casy is always uncertain of how to use his talents as a speaker now not being the preacher of the church. While saying grace for the Joad family, he offers these words, “'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit–the human sperit–the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of.' Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a suddent–I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it." (Steinbeck, 81). This idea continues to be seen throughout the story and dictates the Joad family lives on a smaller scale. Humans should always help others when they have something that other people do not possess. This philosophy contemplates through Tom during the novel and his reasoning for continuing where Jim left off in unifying his soul with the greater of mankind. Ma Joad is a strong, determined, and loving woman for her family. Through all the hardships they face over the course of the novel, she is always there to pick everyone back up and keep going. As Pa Joad becomes less effective as a leader and provider, Ma steps in to the role, “Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken.” (Steinbeck, 74). A citadel is a fortress that commands a city, and that is exactly the role Ma has taken over. She acts as the fortress that commands and protects her city. Along with keeping herself together she keeps the family together, even in the face of turmoil, and gets the family to California. Her ability to act for the better of the family and decisively, allows her to lead the family when Pa cannot. Ma consistently proves to be the strongest supporter of the family. These two attributes of Ma act coherently to create a philosophy of her selfless sacrifice. Although Rose of Sharon is the eldest of Pa and Ma’s daughters, she does not act like a role model for the younger children along the journey. She is presented as an impractical and very easily irritated young woman by Steinbeck. Rose of Sharon’s husband leaves her and the baby is stillborn, but miraculously takes part in the most dramatic and controversial scene in the novel. She is able to help sustain life for the starving man in the barn, “She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously." (Steinbeck, 455). Her act of sustaining life, on top of her hardships and grief for losing her child, compares her to the Virgin Mother. This scene suggests that there is also the tiniest bit of hope no matter what the circumstances are. She has matured since the beginning of the novel and shows traces of her mother’s heart and desire. Through philosophies and actions taken by characters the role of humans in this world is to help others.
Society is constantly moving forward, which leads to people being left behind, and the only way to fix this problem is to bring change now for future generations to have a better life. Martin Luther King, was an activist for change and equal rights for all individuals, and in an excerpt of his “The World House” it is seen the need for change. The connection between his piece and the idea of the paradox of industry seen throughout The Grapes of Wrath is seen, “when civilization is shifting its basic outlook; a major turning point in history where the pre-suppositions on which society is structured are being analyzed, sharply challenged, and profoundly changed.” (King, paragraph 7). The idea behind the paradox of industry is that machines begin to take over the jobs of humans and do them in a more efficient manner and create more profit. The uneducated people lose their jobs and are barely able to survive because that job was their only source of income. On a large scale, this paradox affects the majority of a country. This change in industrialization and mechanization leads to a time period such as the Great Depression. The uneducated and lower classes become furious, “The deep rumbling of discontent that we hear today is the thunder of disinherited masses, rising from dungeons of oppression to the bright hills of freedom.” (King, paragraph 7). The lower classes begin to join together because they know it’s time for change and they know it can be achieved. A call for revolution against the big businesses and owners. On the outside looking in industrialization appeared to be a great period of time for a country. This phrase coined by Mark Twain is used to describe America in the late 19th century, “The golden gleam of the gilded surface hides the cheapness of the metal underneath.” (Mark Twain). Twain called this time the Gilded Age. The bright surface of industrialization hid the darkness of corruption in society. People were living the high life while ignoring the deeper issues, farmers going bankrupt, extreme racism, and problems with immigration. Society is always changing and even more specifically industrialization showed the true colors of humans and how the need for change is always necessary.
Within the ideas of transcendentalism, humans are smart and complex enough to control organized institutions, governments, and education. According to Emerson, the human mind is powerful enough to unlock any mystery, “The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul… and which evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand, and become wisdom, and virtue, and power, and beauty.” (Emerson). The idea of an Over-Soul is a universal spirit to which all beings returned after death, simply put, every being was part of the mind of God. Your actions in life were not dictated up above in how your after life would be affected. People choosing to go against organizations in society or the higher classes would not be punished for wanting to bring a change in life. His protégé Henry David Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” based off Emerson’s ideas. He heartily accepted the motto, “That government is best which governs least.” (Thoreau). Humans should be in charge of their own lives because they are capable of being to unlock anything. This idea differed from the mainstream that all authority belonged to the organized institutions, government, religion, and education. It would be better for everyone if they did not have as much power as people believed there was needed to be for them, instead of people being able to rule themselves directly. In Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, humans are more capable than people think, “We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God. The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope.” (Nobel Speech). He argues that we are already past the point where humans are now in complete control over their own life and they have the power to make their life what they choose it to be. Humans are smart and complex enough to be in control of their own lives and society.
Humans have the power in this world to do anything, but the true role for this race is to help other people live better to continue that chain reaction. Joseph Campbell once said that “one way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.” No matter where they are in society people have the power to change their own lives and those of all in society. MLA Formatted Works Cited List:
“The Gilded Age… Round 2?”. American Humanities. Dec. 2010. .