“The grapes of wrath” is an American humanist book

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“The Grapes of Wrath” is an American humanist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. Notably, the book received many awards for its fiction content and was often quoted, especially when the author was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. The novel is set during the Great Depression in America, and it is mostly about the Joad family. Surprisingly, the family is poor and is made up of tenant farmers who have been forced to flee their homes in Oklahoma due to bank closures that have forced farmers out of business. Remarkably, many changes were being experienced in the agricultural industry, in addition to the economic hardships and drought that made the lives of people unbearable. The Joad family found itself in a desperate circumstance after being trapped in a dust bowl, and they decided to set out for California. Consequently, the Okies join them in their long quest for a brighter future, dignity, land, and employment. The story unfolds after Tom has been released from prison where he was convicted of homicide and on his way home he met Jim, the preacher, and they both travel to Tom’s childhood farm home. Tom decided to persuade his friend to follow him together with his family to the state of California in search of greener pastures.

It is through the unfolding of the relocation journey of the Joads and subsequent settling in the state of California that the author derives the key themes in the novel. Dehumanization, inhumanity, and humanity are central affairs that the author has brought forward in addition to dignity, honor, and wrath. Remarkably, powerlessness, perverseness, and resistance, faith and guilt, community, friendship, and family, are also crucial thematic issues that the author has brought forward. Therefore, the novel is an illustration of people who continue to express hope for the future despite the hardships they face and also presents a class conflict between the business people and the agrarian migrants in the State of California leading to tension between the family of Joad and people with commercial interests (Steinbeck, John 100). Notably, there were major tragic events in California in the years of 1930s that resulted from the distrust and fear, and there is a clear condemnation of religious fanaticism. The problems experienced by Joads represents the larger difficulties suffered by, the more major groups and through transcending their interests, the Joads express their social commitment through their self-sacrifice and identification with the people.

In the novel, the family of the Joads mostly suffers in the hands of individuals who had the ability to help them and not as a result of the dustbowls that presented the unforgiving natural conditions. Though out the book, the people with the institutional capacity to help the poor do not rise to the occasion, but instead, they take advantage of the technological advancements to propagate corruption. The author presents the state police as people who have been perverted by their authority, and the issue is depicted by the exploitative contractor who came to recruit the Okies in a Hooverville occupied by the Joads (Steinbeck, John 156). Just like the industrial farms, the financial institutions in California have no regard for the people working for them. They do everything within their power to oppress the workers through underpayments so as to increase their profit margins. The authors put across that some farms go as far destroying foods so as so to create an artificial shortage of goods and services in the market with the aim of increasing the prices of food in the market. At the same time, many Californians and migrants were starving and craving for diet and job security.

The industrial revolution experienced in the farms through mechanization brought the inhuman nature of the labor markets, and many migrants were left jobless. Consequently, there exists hostility between the local Californians and the migrants who are intimidated by the militias that are formed by the locals leading to fear and resentment against the Okies. Notably, the author of the novel uses the poor people in the book to depict some glimpses of humanity. The institutions described in the book are presented as morally toxic and dehumanizing, and as Ma Joad observed that when one is in trouble, need, or hurt, the only people who stand the high chance of helping are the poor people. In the novel, those individuals in the society that are depicted as poor, are the ones who end up being generous (Steinbeck, John 206). On the other hand, the rich and the wealthy are depicted as selfish and as people who are unwilling to assist the needy in the society. There are powerful moments in the book especially when the Okies, who are among the poorest people in California and can barely support themselves, show altruism. In the final scene of the book, the author pictures Rosasharn, who breastfeeds a dying starving man, illustrating extreme cases of the selflessness among the poor people.

Despite the extreme circumstances of poverty, the Okies in the book are presented as individuals who have the highest level of consciousness in matters relating to maintaining their honor. The Joads are faced by rough economic status, and despite their status of need, they do not accept charity or steal. In the events that they are forced to accept charity, they are quick to repay their debts. For example, Ma replaced the blanket that was used to shroud Grampa Joad, and Al repaired a car belonging to Wilsons after they agreed to offer the old man a deathbed. On the contrary, when the Okies were wronged, they were filled with fury that made them seek vengeance against their offenders (Steinbeck, John 281). The concept of the righteous fury enables the Okies to use their violence and anger to strengthen themselves and move onwards. The author illustrates the floods that threatened the very existence of the livelihoods of the Okies, and he explains that as long as they could turn their fears into wrath, their struggle would continue.

The most defining aspect of Okies culture is the element of rage and dignity. The author describes an individual migrant family that was unwilling to pay a lesser amount other than the sticker priced for a meal. The family considers the fact that paying less for a meal is equivalent to stealing. Tom and Casy are in the forefront to lead the Okies against powers that oppress them, and they express high hopes of improving the welfare of their communities. The Camp owned by the Okies show their virtue of self-sustenance, and they decline to any attempt by outsiders to advance charity towards them. The wealthier community depicted in the book has the element of being unscrupulous as compared to the Okies who express the aspect of honorableness (Steinbeck, John 302). The industrial farms and the banks were accused of extorting the masses and the affluent were known to steal from the hotels. Consequently, the author denounces the greed of the upper classes and glorifies the independent and humble lifestyle of the Okie culture. Therefore, morality and dignity were the cardinal virtues that differentiated between the wealthy and the poor migrants who were struggling to survive. Pride, honor, and wrath, are the identifying features of the Okies family and among the affluent, they are devoid of these essential human virtues.

Remarkably, in the book, almost all the depicted characters endure moments that were spiritually trying. Casy elaborated the element of endurance when he vividly described his Protestant faith. The Christian dogma contained black and white teachings that differentiated the good and the evil. Casy was subjected to a change in his faith when he was compelled by his newly embraced faith to accept the fact that there is an essential unity in the human race. Later in the novel, Tom comes to the same realization after he was able to escape the law in the woods. Ma Joads is full of the spirit of moving on despite the many difficulties she faces in her life. She possesses the determination of moving on, and she holds on the faith that things will turn out alright. However, the faith that is practiced by the characters in the book is seen as detached from the established religion. In the government camp, Jehovah Witness religion of holier than thou attitude is resisted by Ma Joad and it was due to the skeptics about Christianity that Casy left his preaching. According to the Joads, the aspects of Christianity present in their lives resemble rituals. Besides, the faith held by the characters in the book serves to cripple them. The religion makes them possess a sense of guilt that makes them worry about trivial things in their lives. The author describes how Rosasharn worries about her baby’s well-being and she are quick to think that the baby will be harmed as a result of the improper behavior of her and for those people surrounding her (Steinbeck, John 219). Notably, Uncle John felt personally responsible for the death of his wife, and he decided to atone for his sins by living a generous life. However, the anguish that he faces later in his life drives to the issue of turning into a drunkard. The author described an emotional climax in the book when Pa Joad empathized with Rosasharn when she delivered a stillborn kid. He felt obliged to do more for the mother and the child and also, he agonized about harming his firstborn Noah when he was delivered.

Conspicuously, the author focuses on expressing the aspect of soldiering on despite situations of hopelessness. At the beginning of the book, the Oklahoma families are rendered powerless by the landowners who try all the means within their power to repossess the farms. However, character Muley Graves decided to remain on his land despite being in constant conflict with the authorities. Muley knew very well that he could not change anything about his current situation; nevertheless, he refused to give up his only heritage for the sake of the deteriorating environment for survival. The author uses the helplessness nature of the land turtle to depict the endurance and courage the Okies have. Notably, despite the cruelty advanced towards the animal to the extent of being run over by a car, the turtle presses forward. On the other hand, typical of the nature of the Okie families, some humans treated the turtle with kindness (Steinbeck, John 182). In the same manner, the Joads refuse to give up on their journey to the west, and they decided to press on despite the many challenges they met along the way. The obstacles they faced along the voyage was to some extent insurmountable, but they refused to give up.

Tom and Casy are the best illustrations of the aspect of perseverance and resistance. The two are the ring leaders of a rebellion against corrupt political and industrial systems despite the life threatening challenges they met on their quest for a better life. Markedly, Casy lost his life in the struggle and Tom was forced into hiding. The struggles endured by individual characters of the entire Okie family illustrate the spirit possessed by the Okie community. Their drive to work and make their lives better shined in every time the family was faced with tough and rough moments that represented the most powerless and desperate times (Steinbeck, John 89). Many of the oppressed individuals in the book try everything within their power to subvert institutions however large, which keeps them down. The farm owners, the banks, and the law are some of the powerful institutions that were at logger's heads with the Okie community due to their oppressive nature. The systems were powerful to overcome, but that did not demotivate Tom and Casy to rebel against them.

Particularly, in the book, the author demonstrates the element of nuanced relationships and deep ties that were developed through group identity, friendship, and kinship. The Joad family serves as an excellent example of a cohesive unit that is put together by the love they have towards for each other. The support they show for one another helps them not to abandon hope for a better tomorrow. However, the author illustrates in the novel that the unity possessed by the characters come with its complications. Ma Joad showed an assertive leadership and is seen to strip her husband his masculine identity and is on many occasions embarrassed and ashamed by the determination of his wife. He backed down in several events in front of the whole clan, an issue he considered distressing (Steinbeck, John 192). The mutual assistance and cooperation depicted by the Okie family go beyond the blood relationships. The Joads were glad to assist their friends like Wilsons, who they meet on their way to California and Tom is assisted by Wilkie Wallace to secure a job. Political strength is one of the major advantages that accrue to the Okie community as a result of their unity. Tom envisioned a government camp that can function without the help of the police. Notably, in the camp, the aspect of self-governance is demonstrated by the locals with a system of administration that allowed residents to regulate themselves and disciplining the wrongdoers, without sacrificing the independence of the camp.

Class conflict and worker exploitation is a key thematic issue that the author illustrates in the book. The rich and the poor are in a constant war as the poor fight for their rights and survival while the wealthy seek to maintain their status quo. The Okie community together with the Joads migrated from their ancestral land to California in search of better life, but they are in conflict with the authorities in the government camps since the people in power kept on infringing on their rights (Steinbeck, John 220). The workers in the government camp are exploited through being under remunerated and poor working conditions. Tom and Casy were in the forefront to fight for the rights of the oppressed, and they ended up being the sacrificial lamb for their struggle against exploitation.

In conclusion, in search of a future, dignity, jobs, and land, the Joad family and the Okie community face hard times of their lives. Promising jobs in California makes the Joad family envision the trip to the state, and it serves as their only hope of getting their lives back on track. Man’s inhumanity to other men, the saving power of family and fellowship, the dignity of wrath, and weak leadership structures are some of the major issues that are illustrated in the book. Conspicuously, the Okie community is used in the book to show the ability of not giving up despite the harsh conditions of life.

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Work Cited

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes Of Wrath. New York, 1939.


August 31, 2021



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