Free Grapes of Wrath Essays: Steinbeck's Theme of Suffering


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The Theme of Suffering in Grapes Of Wrath

 

A constant theme in The Grapes of Wrath is the suffering of humans. As F.W. Watt says, (The primary impact of The Grapes of Wrath...is not to make us act, but to make us understand and share a human experience of suffering and resistance.) Steinbeck shows us that his characters, as well as all people must endure suffering as human beings.

 

 Humans suffer due to many factors. Religious suffering is one factor which is self imposed. (When we first see Casy he is explaining to Tom Joad how he left preaching, not merely because of the lusts that plagued him, but because religious faith as he knew it seemed to set up codes of behavior which denied human nature its proper and full expression) Religious suffering is perhaps epitomized in Jesus Christ, and Joseph Fontenrose believes the tragic character of Casey is believed to be the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ himself. (Jim Casy's initials are JC, and he retired to the wilderness to find spiritual truth and came forth to teach a new doctrine of love and good works...Casy sacrificed himself for others when he surrendered himself as the man who had struck a deputy Sinrod 3 at Hooverville...Tom told his mother, "I'm talking like Casy," after saying that he would be present everywhere, though unseen...) However the character of Jim Casy goes beyond Christ.

 

While pondering sin and virtue, Casy comes to the enlightening conclusion that people cannot be judged "good" or "bad". ("Maybe it's just the way folks is...There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing. And some things folks do is nice, and some ain't nice, but that's as far as any man got a right to say.") Viewing the morality of individuals as dynamic, as opposed to static, provides tremendous freedom for characters such as Tom Jode. He is capable of many different actions throughout the story, including intimidation, guile, support, love, and even murder.

 

Steinbeck wants to show that even a murderer still loves his mother. The mother after all, is holding his family together. (In all the families in crisis, the children look to the women for answers to their immediate survival: "What are we gonna do, Ma? Where are we going to go?

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") At one point in the story, Tom Jode considers leaving home rather than possibly Sinrod 4 endangering his family, however his mother reminds him that without his family, he has nothing. (There is no question that in this model the mother makes the most important contributions to the family stability.)

 

Placing such importance on family values is not without reasons. Family is all the Jodes have to hold onto in the uncaring world in which they live. It is the only way they survive in the system which thrives on the exploitation of the poor. (The real power of Grapes of Wrath is the savage anger at the impersonal process that uproots men from the land and rapes it...) The best way for the Jodes to gain strength was through groups.

 

Each time a fairly stable group or community was achieved, those in power attempted to destroy the group, effectively taking their strength away. Sylvia Jenkins Cook explains the theme of teamwork... (...a more positive characterization of group behavior emerged...where workers could acquire dignity, strength, and power, all inaccessible to the exploited and impotent individual.)


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