Literature Review Sheet: The Grapes of Wrath
There are many themes in Grapes of Wrath. The disapproval of technology is present as one of those themes. In the beginning of the novel, tractors come to tow the land and knock down the houses. This land and these houses were worked by flesh and blood of the families owning them. They had a feel for the land. They were connected to it, and the land, in previous times, warmly gave back by sprouting nourishing crops. The callousness and apathy of machines ran the people off their property and oppressed the wounded land. Cars are another example. One kills one of the family dogs. After that, the car and the cold, apathetic people in the car just raced past without a second thought.
The concept of survival and determination is also extensively demonstrated throughout the novel. It starts with the journey of an unyielding turtle. Later, it is seen in just about everything the Joads do and settle for on the road and in California. It is done for the sake of survival and relays the Joads’ unwillingness to give up. When the family’s vehicle broke down, the able mechanics of the group had to come up with very creative, on-the-spot, short term solutions. The whole family wound up in shacks and boxcars, practically working for nothing, like slaves to survival.
There is also the element of taking charity. In the government camp, charity is regarded as being shameful. The concept of not being able to take care of one’s family and having to rely on the divine kindness of others seems to belittle their pride and stomp it out of existence. The government camp gives the families the ability to work the charity off with odd jobs.
The emergence of the empowerment of women takes hold quite early in the novel. The first occurrence is when Ma protests the breaking up of the family with the plan of splitting up and backs up her argument with a pick handle. The men are troubled that such a loving easy-going creature puts them down and takes charge. Ma becomes the actual head of the family, pretty much keeping everything together. From then on, she has the last word on all decisions regarding the family unit. She prepares the much needed meals, works in the field one time or another, and makes the family settle down and become presentable before the government camp’s female council. She deals with the children. She is the rock of the family. At the end, it is Rose of Sharon who saves a starving man’s life with her milk.
Another recurrent theme is the concept of “power in numbers”. Everyone at the government camp is united. They get no trouble from the cops. They stand up to the people with power. Later in the novel, Casy gets involved with a union that is trying to get people to unite as a powerful force and go on strike. This way, the management has to pay more. You can only achieve so much as an individual. The power lies within groups.
The turtle in the novel tries to plod up the embankment on the side of the highway. It takes quite a bit of effort. It gets up to the road and is sent spinning on its shell by a vehicle. The turtle continues until Tom picks it up as a gift for the kids in his family that will receive him. The turtle’s journey is side-tracked by a large magnitude. When finally let free, the turtle continues back to its previous spot, up the embankment, on the road. This journey of the turtle, with all of its setbacks, represents the Joads’ journey across the Southwest. No matter what, the turtle does not give up, a similar trait of the Joads in their trip to hopeful prosperity.
Jim Casy is quite the character. He was a preacher. At one of the camps, the one that was eventually burned, Casy sacrificed himself and took the blame for Tom’s “assault” on a police officer. Later, while in jail, Casy leads some followers out of incarceration. This group is one of the belief that if people unite, they can stand up to the government. Eventually, Casy is killed by an official and becomes a martyr of that belief. He makes a believer out of Tom regarding the concept of strength in numbers. All of this points to Jim Casy as being a Christ-like figure in the novel. His initials are even the same as Jesus Christ’s.
Another biblical reference is present in the novel, as far as symbols go. Towards the end of Grapes of Wrath, Rose of Sharon’s baby is born dead. Mrs. Wainwright puts a wrap around it and puts it in an apple box. Uncle John gets the job of respectfully disposing of the dead baby. There is a comparison made in which the dead baby, wrapped in cloth, looks like a mummy. Instead of burying the baby (which was not possible at the time, John let the baby flow away in a running stream. He tells the baby to tell the truth of what happened, to give the people, whoever finds the baby, the message that this way of life and oppression are starving people. This has to do with Moses. Moses was found in Egypt (hence the Egyptian connection to mummies) in a basket in a stream as a baby. Moses was given the task of sending a message, as was Rose of Sharon’s baby.
If it was still summer, and I had all the time in the world, I’d read the whole book in 4 days. I walked with Tom and Jim Casy as a silent observer while they talked on the way to Uncle John’s house. I watched while the Joads worked all day in the field for almost nothing. I was digging the trench during the flood to keep the boxcar dry for Rose of Sharon. I pitied the starving man in the corner of the barn and saw his son cry out desperately to save his brave father’s life. Character development was spectacular. Steinbeck masterfully irritated me with counts of injustice and oppression taking over the lives of all the people who were forced to move west of their homes. I can see why The Grapes of Wrath is one of the great novels.
There is some debate over whether this novel is a work of Realism or Naturalism. I hold the opinion that the chief element of this novel is Naturalism. It shows that you have no control over nature (drought, flood, and stillbirth). The Joads seem to make the best of a bad situation, but as soon as they get anywhere, their luck is ground into the dirt. They do survive for the most part, but they never really rise out of the funk that is their lives. All they do is manage to survive.
The last scene in which Rose of Sharon gives her milk to a starving man has sparked much additional debate over this topic. In my opinion, this does not make any improvement in the Joads’ lives. No matter who she saves with her breast milk, they are not going to get money, they are not going to fix the car, Tom is still hiding in a pitch black cave, and the land is still flooded. If anything, they are not going to get many more jobs because the flood may have destroyed the remaining fields of crops. The only effects this occurrence had was that it made Rose of Sharon more mature mentally and emotionally and it made it obvious that the Joads are good people with warm human kindness and it reinforced that they don’t deserve what happens to them. The novel is a work of Naturalism.
LRS- The Awakening
Chopin relays the theme of women’s rights and equality through the events that occur in the book. This theme is present in Edna’s refusal to yield to the men’s wishes and women’s role in society. When she openly commits adultery, she has no consideration for the thoughts of others and she is free of outside expectation. She is no longer acting ‘properly’.
I believe there may be a theme of irresponsibility. She does not think of others when she acts (she comes to the house where victor is and passively demands fish for dinner), she does not care how others feel, and she blindly commits actions that make her feel good, free, and gleeful. There are whole days after when she does not care about anything, like coming down off of a high. At the end of the novel, Edna acts most careless and irresponsible when she swims out to sea for pleasure’s sake, like a drug addict, without reflection upon any consequence. This pursuit leads to her demise.
The sea is a symbol in the novel. It represents freedom from the restraint of society. It can also be conceived as a danger when you stray from the protection of established civilization and society.
Edna’s birthday party, separate from her husband in her own house, is a grand celebration. There are delicacies for food and elegance for clothing. It symbolized a sort of “unwedding”, a metaphorical cutting of the marital bond between her and Leonce. The people still bound to the tradition of what is proper either did not go or could not stay long. The liberal humans that were interested in individuality and defiance stayed and had a grand old time. After the ceremony, she was officially free from societal burdens.
The lady in black, a minor character in the book walked about and was mentioned several times in the novel. She represented the tragedy of a loss of a loved one. She followed the young lovers on the beach in the beginning of the novel. The lovers were always being followed by tragedy, but kept one step ahead and evaded it. The lady in black was just trying to relive the moments of her loved one with the image of the young lovers before her.
The genre and the prissy air of the novel did not appeal to me. I think it was a decent novel by a previously unheralded professional, but it was just ‘not my cup of tea’. The imagery relayed in the description of feelings, emotions, and people was notable. The development of character and the progression of dialogue also sparked admiration from within me. But that is all it was- admiration. Chopin’s style of writing is respectable, but not of my liking. I give it one thumb up and one down.
I noticed that many of my peers believe that the last scene, the one of Edna’s drowning, was suicide or the ultimate expression of freedom- death. If she were to commit suicide, why swim all the way out to sea to do it? If it was her final expression of freedom, she wouldn’t feel fear and terror over the prospect of dying. She would not flail, but sink comfortably with no panicked motions.
The interpretation that makes more sense in my mind is a rather critical one. Throughout the novel, Edna elicits feelings and actions of selfishness. Her main goal is to please herself and make herself feel good. She commits adultery with heated passion, and pleases herself to the point of complacency. She is a romantic. She is addicted to the feeling of freedom and infatuation that makes her feel like she is in a dream.
She is addicted to the autonomous synthesizing of the chemical Phenolethylamine by her brain and the assimilation of the chemical into her blood. This neuro-chemical is the substance of intense love, and his synthesized more by the brain when someone has an infatuation with someone or something else. Phenolethylamine is very similar to amphetamines, which is a class of chemicals closest associated with narcotic drugs, including hallucinogens. Edna is your basic drug addict. In some mornings, she has no care about anything, as if she came down off of the drug.
This drug drags her away from socializing with people and makes her very selfish, although it was her old ‘proper’ self that impelled her to take part in this generally selfish, anti-social lifestyle. Her addiction to the high of this drug becomes so strong, she mechanically pursues to its beckoning. The catalyst of the synthesizing of Phenolethylamine in her mind comes from the euphoria and weightlessness of the sea. She was not committing suicide. She was pursuing the sensation of pleasure from a widely used but little known natural narcotic.
Only in the fear of death does Edna realize the grave mistake she’s made. I know that Chopin did not intend to make known of this drug of love by name because it was not known then. But they were the feelings of freedom, infatuation, and weightlessness that devoured her like the sea in which she drowned.