The Role of Biblical Symbols in The Grapes of Wrath essay

  • Introduction. The main theme of the book “The Grapes of Wrath”¯. The story of a single family as a story of the whole people. The author compares the Joads to the Israelites.
  • The world of biblical symbolism contributes much to the perception of the book and renders the author’s message.
  • The journey of the Joads toCaliforniasymbolizes the journey of the Israelites in search of thePromiseLand.
  • The image of Jim Casy plays a special role in the book as it conveys the author’s opinion and refers us to the life of Jesus Christ.
  • With the help of images of women the author pays much attention to the Christian values. Such characters as Rose of Sharon and Ma Joad are the examples of strong people who can withstand all the difficulties and forgive their enemies.
  • The author alternates passages written in biblical language with the main part of the novel, written in the Californian dialect, which draws the readers’ attention to the biblical references.
  • The abundance of biblical symbols makes the book a masterpiece of literature and helps to render the main idea of the novel.
  • Conclusion. The author managed to show the readers the spirit of the time. The book was awarded with the Pulitzer Prize.

In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck managed to convey all the troubles of people, who tried to survive at the time of Great Depression, which was a grave economic crisis, accompanied by a dramatic drop in industrial and agricultural production and enormous increase of unemployment. Ā John Steinbeck shows hard conditions of life and the plight of millions of people by the example of a single family ”“ the Joads. He makes his book outstanding due to abundance of biblical symbolism, which helps the author to convey the whole scope of the tragedy of American nation. All major characters in the book are paralleled to particular biblical characters and thus they convey the message of preserving Christian virtues in any situation in life.

Telling the readers about one family, Steinbeck narrates a story of the whole American people. Because of the economic crisis in the country the Joads remain without any means of subsistence. Therefore, they decide to start out toCaliforniain search of a living. Here we come across the first biblical parallel ”“ for the Joads California is as the Promised Land for the Israelites. Though the Joads do not know much about the situation there, they expect to find better life there. They face a great amount of obstacles during their journey, some of the members die and others hardly survive. However, when they arrive inCalifornia, they found out that their dreams won’t come true.

InCaliforniapeople also suffer from the lack of job and starvation. The rumor thatCaliforniais the Promised Land proves to be false and people are disappointed and desperate. Their struggle for better life and their attempts to change the situation are shown in the novel.

The world of biblical symbolism exists simultaneously with the world of the characters of the book and plays a significant role in the perception of the novel, intensifying the tension of the narration and its trustworthiness.

Biblical symbolism and references are skillfully combined with the glorification of human virtues. By the example of The Grapes of Wrath, we see that while the book is devoted to the story of a particular family, due to biblical allusions we understand that John Steinbeck tells about the tragedy of the whole country, of problems, characteristic of any society in a crisis.

Reading the book, we meet the parallel of the Joads and the Israelites. As well as the Israelites wandered in search of the Promised land, the Joads search the place for better life, whereas the Joads do not succeed in their searches.

Starvation mows down people and the Joads also lose their beloved Grandma Joad as soon as they arrive toCalifornia. Though they manage to find a job there, the Joads can hardly make ends meet. The author describes in detail how hunger and misery spoil people, making them angry and cruel. The society rots and only strong people can resist this degeneration. However, they do not give up, being supported by their good friend and adviser Jim Casy. Ā Thus we see that “the various biblical allusions that create the plot in The Grapes of Wrath enhance the overall meaning by adding to the development of the characters”¯ (Mowery 94).

Tom Joad, one of the main characters in the novel, is also a symbolic image.Ā  We may regard him as the savior who leads his family through all the difficulties to the cherished place. As well as Moses led the Israelites to thePromiseLand, Tom leads his family toCalifornia. He is the leader and he has to be strong ”“ in spite of everything he must protect his family and continue his way. Ā The Joads are a clear symbol of a suffering people, who searched for its happiness for forty years, while Tom embodies the savior of this people, Moses.

One of the most significant biblical allusions is the parallel between Jim Casy and Jesus Christ. If we look at his initials, we will guess at once which biblical character he embodies. Jim Casy’s life almost precisely repeats Jesus Christ’s life, not to speak of his mission, deeds and preaches. Jim Casy is a former preacher, who advocates the ideas of sanctity of all people and of their unity, despite any troubles. Though he is not very sure of himself, as of the leader of people and of the preacher of his ideas, he preaches very important principles. His first speech in front of the Joads is rather confused and uncertain. However, it renders his philosophy, which will be followed by the Joads as well. “I got thinkin’ how we was holy when we was one thing, an’ mankin’ was holy when it was one thing. An’ it on’y got unholy when one mis’able little fella got the bit in his teeth an’ run off his own way, kickin’ an’ draggin’ an’ fightin’. Fella like that bust the holi-ness. But when they’re all workin’ together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang””that’s right, that’s holy”¯(Steinbeck 115). Throughout the book, we see his readiness to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. For example, being a faithful Tom’s friend he goes to prison in stead of his friend, though it was Tom who had a fight with a sheriff. Jim Casy’s death of a martyr also refers us to the Bible, to the death of Jesus Christ. The fact that Jim Casy was killed in a stream may refer us to the event of crossing overJordan. When Casy was being killed, he asked the God to forgive his murderer as the latter did not know what he was doing. Here we see the absolute correlation of the scene with that of Christ’s crucifying.

Jim Casy occupies a significant place both in the world of symbols of the novel and in the development of the plot.

The role of this character can not be overestimated in The Grapes of Wrath. He articulates all the main ideas of the book and conveys the author’s message. It is he who presents the author of the book and his thoughts and opinions.

Symbolizing Jesus Christ, he is endowed with all Christian virtues. He takes an active part in the life of the Joads and their destiny. He always gives a piece of advice and is ready to help this family in any situation. Though he never takes any decisions in stead of them, all their deeds are somehow influenced by Casy’s preaches and advice.

Gradually he becomes the spiritual adviser for Joads and directly participates in Tom’s becoming. Accompanying him in all the troubles, he teaches Tom and sets an example for him. The final point in the formation of a new Tom’s character becomes Jim Casy’s death. Tom feels ready to be responsible for others and to be a true leader. He continues Casy’s activity and becomes the follower of his ideas of essential unity of people and their sanctity.

“Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’””I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build””why, I’ll be there. See? God, I’m talkin’ like Casy. Comes of thinkin’ about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes”¯ (Steinbeck 386).

Ma Joad and Rose of Sharon are examples of very strong women. Using direct biblical references, Steinbeck pays much attention to Christian values by the example of women in the novel, which intensifies the impression. We see difficult destinies of Rose of Sharon and Ma Joad and get astonished how they manage to be courageous and firm in all troubles, which they try to overcome. Ma Joad is a peculiar example of a strong woman. It seems that she is sinless and can withstand anything in this life, supporting her family as well. Despite her simple origin she is full of dignity and never allows herself to humiliate others. Therefore, when her family faces hostility, she feels ashamed and humbled. “We’re Joads. We don’t look up to nobody. Grampa’s grampa, he fit in the Revolution. We was farm people till the debt. And then ”” them people. They done somepin to us. Ever’ time they come seemed like they was a-whippin’ me ”” all of us. An’ in Needles, that police. He done somepin to me, made me feel mean. Made me feel ashamed. An’ now I ain’t ashamed. These folks is our folks ”” is our folks”¯ (Steinbeck 318). We witness the greatest tragedy in the life of a young girl, Rose of Sharon. She gives birth to a stillborn child, but manages to overcome this tragedy, to preserve her kindness and to help a dying man. Here we also see religious reference as she says “Not my will, but Thine will be done”¯ (Steinbeck 405), meaning that it is the God’s will that she helps the old man. Thus, we see the strength of all characters, who keep to the main principle of their life ”“ to withstand all difficulties and to preserve their virtue. The images of women represent the Christian virtues, which are preached in the Bible, thus they are also a part of the biblical world of the book.

Mostly the novel is written in a rather simple, easy to understand language. The characters speak a dialect characteristic ofOklahoma, as we can make sure by the example of above mentioned citations.Ā  The language of the book plays a significant role in the perception of the author’s message. From time to time readers meet passages that are written in the language similar to the biblical one. In such a way the author conveys the main ideas of the book, particularly the biblical principles of forgiveness, mercy and kindness towards others, firmness in all ordeals and faith in the God’s help. Passages, written in biblical language, accompany the story of the Joads and due to the contrast of the used language attract readers’ attention to these main principles and ideas. For example, in one of such extracts, Steinbeck advocates the idea that hard work dignifies people. “He last clear definite function of man ”” muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need ”” this is man. To build a wall, to build a house, a dam, and in the wall and house and dam to put something of Manself, and to Manself take back something of the wall, the house the dam; to take hard muscles from the lifting, to take the clear lines and form from conceiving.

For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments”¯ (Steinbeck 265).

Undoubtedly the abundance of biblical images makes the book a particular one, adding to its value and place in the world literature. We see that every character is not simply a person involved into the plot but a person that has a certain mission: Tom Joad is a leader in the family and is compared to Moses, the Joads are paralleled to the Israelites and Jim Casy is associated with Jesus Christ. Biblical references make a great contribution into the perception of the book by readers as it makes all the characters deeper and more complicated. John Steinbeck conveys a special message to the readers of the book. He makes the story many-sided ”“ it is both a touching story of a particular family and a story of the whole nation. Moreover, paralleling biblical characters and those of the novel, Steinbeck shows the connection of times. In the twentieth century people still search for better life, for their Promised Land, as twenty centuries ago, and still have their leaders, who teach them the main human principles of life and are ready to sacrifice their life for the sake of their disciples. The world of symbolism, introduced by Steinbeck, makes us ponder over the life of people during the Great Depression and of the golden rule of life ”“ never to loose our dignity.

The book The Grapes of Wrath is more than a chronicle of American history in 1930s, which could have been done by anybody. In his book Steinbeck shows us the main Christian values and teaches us how to withstand all the hardships on our way. However, this “life textbook”¯ is by no means boring, exactly due to the symbolism of the book.

Steinbeck manages both to fascinate readers and to express his point of view of the situation in the society and the country.

To make a conclusion, having analyzed the use of biblical symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath, we can say that this book is a valuable part of literature heritage. John Steinbeck created a novel, rendering the spirit of that time, the real situation in the country. Therefore, this book plays a great role in the social aspect. Steinbeck based on biblical references and thus, he contributed much to the plot, making it fascinating for readers, and to the expressiveness of the book. The fact that the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the author became the Noble Prize winner speaks for itself.

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