Grapes Of Wrath

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California February 27th 1902. He was the
third of four children and the only son of John Ernst Steinbeck II, manager of a
flour mill, and Olive Hamilton Steinbeck, a former teacher. Steinbeck said of
his youth, (“We were poor people with a hell of a lot of land which made us
think we were rich people, even when we couldn’t buy food and were
patched.”) Steinbeck used the area where he grew up as the setting for many
of his stories. He attended Stanford University for a few years. He had to work
to pay for his education, and sometimes took off one quarter to pay for the
next. (He worked as a clerk in several stores, was a hand in a ranch, and even
worked at the Spreckels Sugar Company where he gained knowledge of labor
problems he would later write about in The Grapes of Wrath.) Other books by
Steinbeck include Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, and Cannery Row. He died in
New York City on December 20th 1968. Sinrod 2 A constant theme in our story is
the suffering of humans. As F.W. Watt says, (The primary impact of The Grapes of
Wrath…is not to make us act, but to make us understand and share a human
experience of suffering and resistance.) Steinbeck shows us that his characters,
as well as all people must endure suffering as human beings. Humans suffer due
to many factors. Religious suffering is one factor which is self imposed. (When
we first see Casy he is explaining to Tom Joad how he left preaching, not merely
because of the lusts that plagued him, but because religious faith as he knew it
seemed to set up codes of behavior which denied human nature its proper and full
expression) Religious suffering is perhaps epitomized in Jesus Christ, and
Joseph Fontenrose believes the tragic character of Casey is believed to be the
symbolic representation of Jesus Christ himself. (Jim Casy’s initials are JC,
and he retired to the wilderness to find spiritual truth and came forth to teach
a new doctrine of love and good works…Casy sacrificed himself for others when
he surrendered himself as the man who had struck a deputy Sinrod 3 at
Hooverville…Tom told his mother, “I’m talking like Casy,” after
saying that he would be present everywhere, though unseen…) However the
character of Jim Casy goes beyond Christ. While pondering sin and virtue, Casy
comes to the enlightening conclusion that people cannot be judged
“good” or “bad”. (“Maybe it’s just the way folks
is…There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.

It’s all part of the same thing. And some things folks do is nice, and some
ain’t nice, but that’s as far as any man got a right to say.”) Viewing the
morality of individuals as dynamic, as opposed to static, provides tremendous
freedom for characters such as Tom Jode. He is capable of many different actions
throughout the story, including intimidation, guile, support, love, and even
murder. Steinbeck wants to show that even a murderer still loves his mother. The
mother after all, is holding his family together. (In all the families in
crisis, the children look to the women for answers to their immediate survival:
“What are we gonna do, Ma? Where are we going to go?”) At one point in
the story, Tom Jode considers leaving home rather than possibly Sinrod 4
endangering his family, however his mother reminds him that without his family,
he has nothing. (There is no question that in this model the mother makes the
most important contributions to the family stability.) Placing such importance
on family values is not without reasons. Family is all the Jodes have to hold
onto in the uncaring world in which they live. It is the only way they survive
in the system which thrives on the exploitation of the poor. (The real power of
Grapes of Wrath is the savage anger at the impersonal process that uproots men
from the land and rapes it…) The best way for the Jodes to gain strength was
through groups. Each time a fairly stable group or community was achieved, those
in power attempted to destroy the group, effectively taking their strength away.

Sylvia Jenkins Cook explains the theme of teamwork… (…a more positive
characterization of group behavior emerged…where workers could acquire
dignity, strength, and power, all inaccessible to the exploited and impotent
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Penguin Books USA Inc, Copyright 1939.

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James J. Martine (ed.), Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume Nine, Bruccoli
Clark Books, Copyright 1981. Harold Bloom (ed.), Bloom’s Notes, Chelsea House
Publishers, Copyright 1996. David Wyatt (ed.), New Essays on The Grapes of
Wrath, Cambridge University Press, Copyright 1990. Carolyn Riley, Phyllis
Mendelson (editors), Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale Company, Copyright
1976. Excerpt from Wilson McWilliams, John Steinbeck, Writer, reprinted with
permission of Commonweal Publishing Company.

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