The Grapes of Wrath: Symbolic Characters

Topics: The Grapes of Wrath, Henry Fonda, John Steinbeck Pages: 7 (2927 words) Published: October 8, 1999
The Grapes of Wrath: Symbolic Characters

Struggling through such things as the depression, the Dust Bowl summers, and trying to provide for their own families, which included finding somewhere to travel to where life would be safe. Such is the story of the Joads. The Joads were the main family in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a book which was written in order to show what a family was going through, at this time period, and how they were trying to better their lives at the same time. It wouldn't be enough for Steinbeck to simply write this story in very plain terms, as anyone could have simply logged an account of events and published it. Critics have argued, however, that Steinbeck was too artificial in his ways of trying to gain some respect for the migrants. Regardless of the critical opinions, John Steinbeck utilized symbolism as a forum to convey the hardships and attitudes of the citizens of America during the 1930's in his book The Grapes of Wrath.

The first aspect of the novel that must be looked at when viewing the symbolic nature is that of the characters created by Steinbeck and how even the smallest facets of their person lead to a much larger meaning. The first goal that Steinbeck had in mind, was to appeal to the common Midwesterner at that time. The best way to go about doing this was to focus on one of the two things that nearly all migrants had in common, which was religion and hardships. Steinbeck creates a story about the journey of a family and mirrors it to that of biblical events. The entire family, in themselves, were like the Israelites. "They too flee from oppression, wander through the wilderness of hardships, seeking their own Promised Land" (Shockley, 91). Unfortunately, although the Israelites were successful, the Joads never really found what they could consider to be a promised land. They were never lucky enough to really satisfy their dreams of living a comfortable life. But, they were still able to improve on their situation.

Another symbolic character that was undoubtedly more religious than anyone else taking the journey was Jim Casy. He was a preacher that was picked up along the way by the Joads. Steinbeck manages to squeeze in a lot about this character, and a lot of the background he creates about Mr. Casy shows just how much of a biblical man he really is supposed to be. So much so, that Steinbeck uses Jim Casy to symbolize Christ. Oddly enough, his initials were not only the same as Jesus Christ, but much of his life is similar to the biblical accounts of Christ. Not only did he also begin his long trek after a stay in the wilderness, he also had rejected an old religion to try and find his own version of the gospel and convince people to follow him. His death, another aspect comparable to that of Christ, also occurred in the middle of a stream, which could represent the "crossing over Jordan" account. "Particularly significant, however, are Casy's last words directed to the man who murders him" (Shockley, 92-93). Jim's last words are to forgive the man who kills him with a pickax. He tells him "You don't know what you're a-doing," which is a simple allusion to the statement by Jesus to God when He is being crucified and asks his Father to forgive them, for they knew not what they were doing. In this novel, even the title is a Christian allusion. The title is "a direct Christian allusion, suggesting the glory of the coming of the Lord" (Shockley, 90).

Looking at the main character of the story, Tom Joad, even more Christian symbolism is seen. Tom Joad is almost a direct fit for the story of the "prodigal son" from the bible. He is the son that must lead everyone across in a great journey, while symbolically already wandering from the favor of God by killing a man in self-defense. Tom must find a way to forget about this event and continue to keep his goal of getting to California (and his Promised Land) in sight. He understands...
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