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Dynamic Characters and Survival in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

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Dynamic Characters and Survival in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath


In the American epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, there are pivotal and dynamic changes that occur in the various significant characters of Jim Casy, Ma Joad, and Tom Joad. Steinbeck specifically uses these characters to show their common realizations about all of humanity, in order to demonstrate his underlying meaning about the importance of people coming together, helping each other out, and surviving. Ma Joad illustrates this idea clearly when she speaks to Tom mid-way through the novel: “Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why we’re the people--we go on.” (350)

Early in the novel we are introduced to a journeying preacher named Jim Casy, who has already been drifting for four years. He has gone through a dynamic change, and through the course of the novel he learns how to apply his new Emerson worldview of an Oversoul that all of humanity is a part of. Jim Casy sees the good in all things and people: “There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.” (30) He therefore shares a concern for and a need to be with the people. It isn’t until later in the novel, however, that Jim Casy becomes fully aware of the truth behind his ideas. When he sacrifices to go to jail for Tom, he learns in prison about the strength and power of men working together to reach their goals. Jim Casy is murdered after he gets out of jail, trying to put some of these new ideas into action. His message only comes into true realization after his death, as it branches out and attracts followers such as Tom Joad, but it can be seen in many of the actions of Ma Joad throughout the book.

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... She comforts the Wilsons, feeds the starving nameless faces when she barely has enough for her own family, works together with the Wainwrights, and as the novel closes she is still directing her assistance to those who are in need any way she can, by helping the starving man and taking control of the situation. She feels that as long as she can hold on to some part of the family, she will see to it that they keep on going.

Thus with the Joads and company, the journey West is also a journey from personal concern for oneself, to a larger concern for all of humanity. When there doesn’t seem to be anything left, at least you have each other, the people. That is what will endure, continue, live on, and populate the world. Ma reassures the family at the end of the novel that they are not going to die out, they may change a little, but they will go right on.


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