The of man verses a hostile environment.

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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 Steinbecks 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, ironically 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
good 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.

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Categories: Poverty


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