A Subtle Metamorphosis in The Grapes of Wrath
The spirit of unity emerges as the one unfailing source of strength in John Steinbeck¹s classic The Grapes of Wrath. As the Joad family¹s world steadily crumbles, hope in each other preserves the members¹ sense of pride, of courage, and of determination. A solitary man holds a grim future; with others to love and be loved by, no matter how destitute one is materially, life is rich. This selflessness is not immediate, however; over the course of the book several characters undergo a subtle metamorphosis.
A recently paroled Tom Joad makes his first encounter with altruism as he attempts to hitchhike with a trucker whose employer has outlawed the practice. When the trucker points out the "No Riders" (11) sign his truck carries, Tom replies, "ŒBut sometimes a guy¹ll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.¹" (11) Steinbeck has cleverly cornered the man by utilizing a tool often implemented in Depression-era literature: the classification of the guilty rich as anonymous, thus convincing the trucker that he is "not one whom any rich bastard could kick around." (11) Still, this generous gesture is caused by shame and guilt, not by an independent moral factor.
The notion of a collective spirit is explored when Tom meets the former preacher, Casy. Casy has given up classical religion because it lacks pragmatism and overemphasizes escapism. In a thesis statement that is repeated several times, he says, "ŒMaybe it¹s all men and women we love; maybe that¹s the Holy Sperit‹the human speritŠMaybe all men got one big soul and ever¹body¹s a part of.¹" (33) At this early point, though, Tom remains skeptical. "Joad¹s eyes dropped to the ground, as though he could not meet the naked honesty in the preacher¹s eyes. ŒYou can¹t hold no church with idears like that.¹" (33)
Sharing is developed more when Tom, taking Casy under his wing, runs across an old friend, Muley. Though a vagrant, he has freshly killed rabbits in possession. Steinbeck shows the crossover to unconscious unity as Casy asks Muley if he¹ll share: "ŒI ain¹t got no choice in the matterŠwhat I mean, if a fella¹s got somepin to eat and another fella¹s hungry‹why, the first fella ain¹t got no choice.¹" (66)
Banding together in organized efforts is an elusive goal rarely achieved in the novel. Characters dream of unions at...