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Jim Casy: An Unlikely American Transcendentalist

1957 words - 8 pages

In John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, Jim Casy is depicted as a philosophical, Christ-like teacher who triumphs over the evils of society. A literal interpretation of Emerson's philosophy gave birth to Casy's new doctrine of Love. As he evolves from a preacher of the old to a practitioner of the new, some believe that Jim Casy demonstrates remarkable similarities to Jesus Christ. These similarities are impressed upon not only Tom Joad, but also an entire group of oppressed workers that had little hope of a better life.Ninety-three years before Jim Casy, Ralph Waldo Emerson left the church because of his unorthodox views of the religion he was teaching. He then began to teach a new religion; "The world lacks unity because man is disunited with himself...Love is its demand" (Carpenter 9). Casy followed Emerson's path as well as a literal interpretation of his concept of the over-soul. Jim's American Transcendentalist beliefs are first stated early in the novel while he speaks with his prodigy Tom Joad, "Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus?...maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit -- the human sperit -- the whole shebang." (Steinbeck 31). Casy becomes, like Emerson, a preacher of loving mankind and appreciating one another. Both of these men believed that "every individual will trust those instincts which he shares with all men, even when these conflict with the teachings of orthodox religion and of existing society" (Carpenter 14).In keeping with his Emerson inspired beliefs Casy left the church because his beliefs went against what orthodox religion taught. Sex is an evil thing to conventional Christians; Casy disagreed with this interpretation. He often had sex with women after he got them "frothin' with the Holy Sperit" with the sermons he preached (Steinbeck 29). What Jim was doing bothered him because in his mind he felt that his actions were wrong. He didn't understand how he could have sex with a girl so full of the Holy Spirit.He didn't understand how evil could "get in when a girl is so full of the Holy Sperit that it's spoutin' out of her nose an' ears" (Steinbeck 28). This thought perplexed Casy until he finally figured out why; "Maybe it ain't a sin. Maybe it's just the way folks is" (Steinbeck 30). The orthodox sexual ethic cut him off from knowing that "his true self is better" (Conder 111). His new thoughts further inspire Casy to go into the wilderness and spend time with himself and develop a base for his enlightened state of being. His time in the wilderness helps Casy to realize that he is nothing but a part of the whole. He emerges from the wilderness ready to preach about how everyone is a part of something greater, part of mankind as a whole. Casy's new philosophy is roused by a sense of relationship with "not an unknowable God outside of nature, but for knowable Nature in all its forms" (Conder 110). Casy abandons the quest for prominence sought by man in nature and instead wishes...

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