John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is a classic American novel based on the Dust Bowl migration that took place in the 1930’s. Serving as an example of all migrant families in the 30’s, his book follows a family—the Joads—through their treacherous journey from Oklahoma to California. It depicts the struggles they face trying to survive in a land where oranges were supposed to be plentiful for the taking. However, The Grapes of Wrath is much more than a restatement of American history. It is a penetratingly tragic reality that awakens the human heart. Through foreshadowing and the harsh realities of California, Steinbeck develops Tom Joad as a tragic hero illustrating the value of unity in spirit; the holiness that is found within men when they share in common purpose to create harmony.
Traveling home with the expectation of seeing his family as he left them, Tom comes across a turtle. Introduced in earlier chapters, the turtle seems out of place and random; however, the story of the turtle is a symbol for the entire book and was strategically placed in an early chapter to provide foreshadowing for the Joad’s journey. “His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along,” (Steinbeck 14) the land turtle seems to be struggling in this sentence and rather than advancing towards a goal, he seems to be moving just to survive. As the turtle continued his trek further challenges appeared. “As the embankment grew steeper and steeper, the more frantic were the efforts of the land turtle,” portraying the future of the Joads (Steinbeck 15).
After the embankment the turtle’s travels appear to take a turn for the better; in reality it’s merely a slight break before the next challenge. “A sedan driven by a forty-year-old woman approached” (Steinbeck 15), wheels lifting and rubber screaming as she swerved to miss the turtle. This provides foreshadowing for the unintentional dangers that the Joads will face. Quickly following the sedan, a truck came down the road, “the driver spotted the turtle and swerved to hit it.” Barely missing the turtle represents the intentional threats fated for the Joads. Yet, just like the turtle the Joads will learn to continue on.
When Tom finds the turtle he does not know the struggles through which it endured or the perseverance of this turtle. He merely proposes to use it as a gift for his younger siblings, thus taking the turtle in the opposite direction of its desired destination. Upon reaching his home, Tom and Jim Casy—whom he meets along his way—learn of his family’s circumstances from an old neighbor and how his family has already started their journey to California. Knowing that he cannot take the turtle with him Tom lets it go and watches it head quickly back in the direction it was going prior to their encounter. Curiously Tom states to Casy “I seen turtles all my life. They’re always going somewhere,’ unaware of his similar fate...