Symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Through such hardships as the Depression, the Dust Bowl summers, and trying to provide for their own families, which included the search for a safe existence, we find the story of the Joad's. The Joad's are the main family in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, which he created to give voice to the hundreds of families that found themselves at their absolute rock bottom during the Great Depression of the 20th Century in America.
It wouldn't have been enough for Steinbeck to simply document the strife that faced these families in very plain terms, for anyone could have simply logged an account of events and published it. Rather, he needed to draw us in with emotional content, to do these families justice. Critics have argued that Steinbeck was too artificial in his ways of trying to gain some respect for the migrants. But, regardless of the critical opinions, John Steinbeck utilized 3 profound areas of symbolism as a forum to convey the spirits and attitudes of the citizens of America, who in his eyes, it seems, faced the worst of The Grapes of Wrath.
The first aspect of the novel that must be looked at when screening its symbolic content, is that of the characters created by Steinbeck and how even the smallest facets of their personalities lead to a much larger implication for the reader. The first goal Steinbeck had in mind was to appeal to the common Midwesterner of that era. The best way to go about doing this was to use religion and hardship, two categories equally entrenched in the mores of that time. He creates a story about the journey of a specific family, the Joad's, and mirrors it to that of biblical events. Each family group throughout the novel, within themselves, is like one of the tribes of the Israelites. "They too had to flee from oppression, wander through the wilderness of hardships, seeking their own Promised Land" (Shockley, 91). Unfortunately, though the Israelites were successful in their attempts to flee, the Joad's never really found what they could consider to be a Promised Land. Though they were able to improve on their situation, they were never lucky enough to really satisfy their dreams of living a comfortable life.
Another aspect of Steinbeck's character symbolism comes in the form of Jim Casy, a man undoubtedly more religious than anyone else on the journey to a better place. He is the preacher picked up along the way by the Joad's and Steinbeck manages to squeeze in a lot of background about his character. And, much of the background he creates about Mr. Casy shows us what a biblical man he really is supposed to be. So much so, that Steinbeck seems to use Casy as a symbol of Christ Himself. Oddly enough, his initials were not only the same as Jesus Christ's, but also much of his life parallels the biblical accounts of Christ. Not only did he too begin his long trek after a sojourn in the wilderness, he also had rejected an old...