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Dignity And Transformation In The Face Of Tragedy

908 words - 4 pages

It is not very often, when you read a book that you see hopeful and stirring themes placed against a backdrop of terror and tragedy. The “Grapes of Wrath”, written by John Steinbeck in 1939, is a gritty and realistic picture of life for migrant families in California during the Great Depression in the face of a drought, all struggling to build lives for themselves and maintain their dignity amongst the rampant capitalist self-interest of landowners. “The Grapes of Wrath” is both a novel both a naturalistic epic and a social commentary. Steinbeck tackles major themes such as suffering inflicted from man unto man and the snowballing effects of both selflessness and selfishness, all seen through the eyes of an altruistic, omniscient narrator following the much begotten Joad family on their migrant journey. Through characters such as Tom Joad, a young man struggling to overcome his past and endeavoring to live in the moment who learns to be a leader of all people, and the painful yet dignified character arcs of his entire family and his best friend, Steinbeck shows what he most wants us to take away from this novel, which is the understanding of the transformative power of passion and anger, as well as respect for the holiness of our fellow man.

“Grapes of Wrath” begins with Tom Joad, recently released from prison, meeting Jim Casey, an ex-preacher who believes that holiness is not to be found within the confines of a church but rather in the shared human experience. They team up together and join his family on their expedition across the country in a rickety truck. The family faces trauma after trauma, foreshadowed by the death of their dog right at the start. Both grandparents quickly pass away, Tom’s younger and pregnant sister is abandoned by her husband, and his two brothers choose to take their own path away from the family as well. The Joads and Jim travel from migrant camp to migrant camp, where the struggle for survival is placed in sharp relief as man must turn against man in a sickening Darwinistic environment. The characters suffer breakdowns, the father retreating from his role as a leader, the mother enduring the tragedy in silence, and Tom questioning what the point of his life even is. The climax of the struggle occurs as Jim is murdered by a police officer, who Tom then kills. In the absence of the group’s spiritual leader, Tom steps up and joins together a large group of migrants to fight for better conditions, finding his purpose as a man of the people and leaving the Joad family on his own. The book concludes when Tom’s sister, Rose of Sharon, gives birth to a stillborn baby, and uses her milk to save a...

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