Power Of Religion In John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath

2426 words - 10 pages

The Power of Religion in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck's epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, chronicles the struggles of the Joads as they join the thousands of fellow "Okies" in a mass migration westward. The Joads reluctantly leave behind their Oklahoma farm in search of work and food in California. While Steinbeck writes profoundly and emotionally about the political problems of the Great Depression, his characters also show evidence of a deep concern with spirituality. When they feel hopeless and are uncertain about their immediate future, their concentration on religion dwindles. On the other hand, when they leave their home, the Joads regain spiritual faith; they have something to live for: California. Once they arrive and find only more difficulties, they lose their sense that better things are ahead of them and gravitate back towards thinking politically. However, they finally return to the source of their original faith--religion-- at their most desperate time.

          One of the first characters Steinbeck introduces (after Tom Joad) is the former preacher Jim Casy, who questions his own faith in his initial conversation with Tom: "Ain't got the call [to preach] no more. Got a lot of sinful idears-but they seem kinda sensibleThe sperit's strong in me, on'y it ain't the sameHere I got the sperit sometimes an' nothin' to preach about. I got the call to lead the people, an' no place to lead 'em" (Steinbeck 20-21). His skepticism precludes him from preaching. He still recognizes the importance of his religion, but he is no longer sure of its role in the times of hopelessness. Casy could not preach when neither he nor those to whom he preached had a purpose. When guided by a goal, though, he provides sufficient leadership. That lack of a goal before the decision to go to California is made, and later when the Californian image proves only an illusion, is what disturbed the Okies' spirituality. When he joins the Joads on their journey, he does have a "promised land" of sorts where he is leading them. He is not immediately comfortable with the expectations the Joads place on him, however. When prodded by Granma to say grace at breakfast before leaving home, Casy initially refuses, admitting that he does not know for what or to whom he should pray. But he explains how he had a religious awakening: "There was the hills, an' there was me, an' we wasn't separate no more. We was one thing. An' that one thing was holy...I'm glad of the holiness of breakfast. I'm glad there's love here" (81). The emphasis on the humanitarian, realistic aspect of religion (as opposed to the treatment of God) serves to lead his new family in their trek, whereas supernatural faith had already been shattered by the loss of the land. Later, as the Joads pass through western Oklahoma, Grampa suffers a stroke. Casy's natural reaction is treat his body and determine what, if anything, can be done to save his life. Granma, on the other hand,...

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