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The Grapes Of Wrath: Symbols Essay, Research Paper

The Grapes of Wrath: Symbols

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, iron

ically 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.

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 g

ood 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.

33e


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