The Joad family had to abandontheir home and their livelihoods. They had to uproot and set adrift becausetractors were rapidly industrializing their farms. The bank took possession oftheir land because the owners could not pay off their loan. The novel shows howthe Joad family deals with moving to California.
How they survive the cruelty ofthe land owners that take advantage of them, their poverty and willingness towork. The Grapes of Wrath combines Steinbeck adoration of the land, his simplehatred of corruption resulting from materialism (money) and his abiding faith inthe common people to overcome the hostile environment. The novel opens with aretaining picture of nature on rampage. The novel shows the men and women thatare 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 thetheme of the novel is through the use of symbolism. There are several uses ofsymbols in the novel from the turtle at the beginning to the rain at the end. Aseach symbol is presented through the novel they show examples of the good andthe bad things that exist within the novel.
The opening chapter paints a vividpicture of the situation facing the drought-stricken farmers of Oklahoma. Dustis described a covering everything, smothering the life out of anything thatwants 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 oflife (farming) gone, people ^uprooted and forced to leave.
Secondly, the duststands for ^profiteering banks in the background that squeeze the life out theland by forcing the people off the land. The soil, the people (farmers) havebeen drained of life and are exploited: The last rain fell on the red and graycountry of Oklahoma in early May. The weeds became a dark green to protectthemselves from the sun’s unyielding rays. .
. . The wind grew stronger, uprootingthe weakened corn, and the air became so filled with dust that the stars werenot visible at night. (Chp 1) As the chapter continues a turtle, which appearsand reappears several times early in the novel, can be seen to stand forsurvival, a driving life force in all of mankind that cannot be beaten by natureor man. The turtle represents a hope that the trip to the west is survivable bythe farmer migrants (Joad family).
The turtle further represents the migrantsstruggles against nature/man by overcoming every obstacle he encounters: the redant in his path, the truck driver who tries to run over him, being captured inTom Joad’s jacket: And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, thedriver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. The driver of the truck works for alarge company, who try to stop the migrants from going west, when the driverattempts to hit the turtle it is another example of the big powerful guy tryingto flatten or kill the little guy. Everything the turtle encounters trys itsbest to stop the turtle from making its westerly journey. Steadily the turtleadvances on, ironically to the southwest, the direction of the mirgration ofpeople. The turtle is described as being lasting, ancient, old and wise: hornyhead, 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 symbolicof nature and man the try to stop the turtle from continuing his journeywestward to the promise land.
The turtle helps to develop the theme by showingits struggle against life/ comparing it with the Joad struggle against man. Thegrapes seem to symbolize both bitterness and copiousness. Grandpa the oldestmember of the Joad family talks of the grapes as symbols of plenty; all hisdescriptions of what he is going to do with the grapes in California suggestcontentment, freedom, the goal for which the Joad family strive for: I’m gonnalet the juice run down ma face, bath in the dammed grapes (Chp 4) The grapesthat are talked about by Grandpa help to elaborate the theme by showing that nomatter how nice everything seems in California the truth is that their beauty isonly skin deep, in their souls they are rotten. The rotten core verses thebeautiful appearance.
The willow tree that is located on the Joad’s farmrepresents the Joad family. The willow is described as being unmovable and neverbending to the wind or dust. The Joad family does not want to move, they preferto stay on the land they grew up on, much the same as the willow does. Thewillow contributes to the theme by showing the unwillingness of the people to beremoved from their land by the banks. The latter represents the force makingthem leave their homes.
Both of these symbols help contribute to the theme byshowing a struggle between each other. The tree struggles against nature in muchthe same way that the Joad family struggles against the Bank and largecompanies. The rains that comes at the end of the novel symbolize severalthings. Rain in which is excessive, in a certain way fulfills a cycle of thedust which is also excessive. In a way nature has restored a balance and hasinitiated a new growth cycle.
This ties in with other examples of the rebirthidea in the ending, much in the way the Joad family will grow again. The raincontributes to the theme by showing the cycle of nature that give a conclusionto the novel by showing that life is a pattern of birth and death. The rain isanother example of nature against man, the rain comes and floods the livingquarters of the Joads. The Joads try to stop the flood of their home by yetagain are forced back when nature drops a tree causing a flood of water to ruintheir home forcing them to move. In opposite way rain can helpful to give lifeto plants that need it to live. Depending on which extreme the rain is in, itcan be harmful or helpful.
This is true for man, man can become both extremesbad or good depending on his choosing. Throughout the novel there are severalsymbols used to develop the theme man verses a hostile environment. Each symbolused in the novel show examples of both extremes. Some represent man, thatstruggles against the environment, others paint a clear picture of the feelingsof 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 throughthe novel to the West.