Themes from "The Grapes of Wrath"

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 14:48   /   Views: 231
Themes from "The Grapes of Wrath"

Throughout history man has made many journeys, far and wide. Moses’ great march through the Red Sea and Columbus’ traversing the Atlantic are only but a few of man’s great voyages. Even today, great journeys are being made. Terry Fox’s run across Canada while having cancer shows one of such journeys. In every one of these instances people have had to rise above themselves and over come immense odds, similar to a salmon swimming up stream to fulfill it’s life line. Intense drive and extreme fortitude are qualities the Joads had to possess during their travels. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck shows the Joad’s endurance by his use of extended metaphors in intercalary chapters.

Steinbeck uses intercalary chapters to provide background for the various themes in the novel. This effectively foreshadows upcoming events by telling of the general state of the local population in the intercalary chapters and then narrowing it down to how it effects the main characters of the novel, the Joad’s. Setting the tone of the novel in the readers mind pulls out yet another function of Steinbeck’s intercalary chapters. In chapter three, Steinbeck describes the long tedious journey of a land turtle across a desolate highway. From the onset of his journey, the turtle encounters many set backs. All along the way he gets hindered by ants, hills, and oak seeds under his shell. The turtles determination to reach his destination becomes most apparent when a truck driven by a young man swerves to hit the turtle. The turtle’s shell was clipped and he went flying off the highway, but the turtle did not stop. He struggled back to his belly and kept driving toward his goal, just as the Joad’s kept driving toward their goal. Much like the turtle from chapter three, the Joad’s had to face many great hardships in their travels. The planes of Oklahoma, with their harsh summer weather, was the Joad’s desolate highway. The truck driver represented the Californians, who buried food and killed live stock to keep the Joad’s and others like them away from their dream. Sickness was their ants and hills. But even through all of this the Joad’s persevered. They were driven by great motivating powers to endure poverty and hunger. Just as the turtle searched for food, the Joad’s were searching for paradise, "the Garden of Eden."

Through out the novel, the acts of kindness by poor people are contrasted to the greed and meanness of the rich. Law enforcement officers represent the crazed male driver who swerves to hit the turtle in intercalary chapter three. Following Casy, Tom organizes the migrants for a strike, showing his will to make his American Dream come true. Ma Joad ironically says, "If your in trouble or hurt or need – go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help." (pg. 335). The irony in this statement is if you need something you have to go to the people who don’t have anything. The use of this irony can be seen in chapter fifteen when the restaurant owner and waitress give the family bread at a discounted rate, and candy two for a penny when it actually costs a nickel for each candy. The truck drivers then leave large tips to the waitress. Neither the truck driver nor the restaurant owner and waitress are very rich but they are generous anyway. In chapter seventeen the person at the car dump gives Tom and Al things for huge discounted rates. Ma Joad hints an example of this irnoy. The Joads are poor and yet they give what little they have to the children who need it. They also stay and help the Wilsons when it just slowed them down. There seems to be more irony shown in the statement above when the small land owner that Tom first gets work warns them of the plot of the Farmer’s Association to raid the government camp. The clerk in the company store in chapter twenty-four shows his generous, lending Ma ten cents so she can get sugar for the coffee. These generous acts help the Joads on their long journey to California.

Acts of generosity are contrasted to how the rich people are trying to rip off the migrants. Chapter seven shows how the car dealer rip the people off by selling them pieces of junk for high prices. They use cheep tricks such as pouring sawdust into the gears or transmission to cut down the noise of the car and hide problems. They take advantage of the tenant farmers ignorance of cars and interest rates to make a profit. Chapter nine shows how junk dealers bought all the things from the tenant farmers at a very low price. The farmers have to leave and can’t take stuff with them, so they take advantage of the fact that the farmers have no choice but to sell them at whatever price they name. Chapters nineteen, twenty-one, and twenty-five are general chapters that show how the large land owners are cheating the migrants and smaller land owners to make a larger profit. They show how the land owners hire guards and lower the wages to break their spirit while keeping them from organizing. We see through the Joad’s experiences that the owners would cut the wages because they knew the people were starving and that they were hungry enough to take any wage. Meanwhile they dumped or burned excess food to keep the prices high and put guards around them to keep the migrants from getting them. They company store also tries to rip the migrants off by charging extra for things because it costs gas to go to the nearest town.

The Joad’s journey feels second to none in terms of adversity and length. The Joad’s incredible ability to over come all odds and keep going is epitomized in intercalary chapters. Steinbeck uses his rendition of facts, the "turtle" chapter, to parallel the Joad’s struggle to reach the promise land. Just as the turtle endured, so did the Joad’s, never digressing from their strait and narrow path to California.

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