The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, a remarkable novel that greatly embodied the entire uprisal of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The usage of imagery and symbolism help to support his many different themes running through the course of the novel. His use of language assisted in personifying the many trials and tribulations which the Joad family, and the rest of the United States, was feeling at the time. This was a time of great confusion and chaos because no one really knew what the other was going through, they were all just trying to hold their own. To display the many sides of the depression Steinbeck developed the use of intercallorie chapters, and he also manipulated them to posses many other functions; all of these adding to the many images and themes which he was insistent upon getting across to his readers, using a vast collection of techniques.
One of Steinbecks favorite uses of language was the use of imagery. He used colors, animals, and people as his main sources of imagery. The most reoccurring images of color were red and grey. He used this to develop the reader into sensing the harshness, and yet the incredible dullness of the scenery, using red as the sun and grey as the land, at times interchanging. In the grey sky a red sun appeared, a dim red circle that gave a little light, like dusk; and as that day advanced the dusk slipped back toward darkness, and the wind cried and whimpered over the fallen corn(5). Steinbeck used his color imagery to display the almost separation of the two different worlds between the land, symbolically and literally. the grey country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover(3). His use of red and grey represent the slow wearing away of the land and its people. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country, and white in the grey country. This shows the way the earth was washed out and dimming under the abuse of the cotton farming, which stripped the land. Later in the story, Steinbeck continued his use of simple color imagery, typically describing the sun, dust and light. there was a layer of dust in the bed, and the hood was covered in dust, and the headlights were obscured with a red flour. The sun was setting when the truck came back, and the earth was bloody in the setting light. In Chapter 6 the imagery of the large red drop of sun lingering and then setting also portrayed this imagery; into Chapter 16, Steinbeck continued to use this sort of color imagery with descriptions of the rolling grey country. He also used animal imagery throughout the novel. The most prominent description of these animals was the highly symbolic land turtle. The back legs went to work, straining like elephant legs, and the shell tipped to an angle so that the front legs could not reach the level cement plain(20).The old humorous eyes looked ahead, and the horny beak opened a little. His yellow toe nails slipped a fraction in the dust(21). This sort of description gives the reader an impression of struggling effort with a lack of results, which was part of the hardship the people in the Dust Bowl were experiencing. Steinbeck used the descriptions of the characters themselves to create images, typically giving the people animal qualities. Joads lips stretched tight over his long teeth for a moment, and he licked his lips like a dog, one in each direction from the middle(16). Also, he used imagery to portray the people of the time, and the weariness of their life and emotions:
Lines of weariness around the eyes, lines of discontentment down from the mouth, breasts lying heavily in little hammocksthe mouths panting, the eyes sullen, disliking sun and wind and earth, resenting food and weariness, hating time that rarely makes them beautiful and always makes them old.(199)
Steinbecks usage of imagery included an excess of simple colors, red and grey, but also the imagery of animals and people were used to give and set a mood for the story which throughout remained of the same sort of tired, hopeless effort.
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Steinbeck also developed the use of intercallorie chapters in the novel The Grapes of Wrath. These chapters separated the chapters of the Joads journey to California, and were used to shed light upon their journey in a different perspective. These intercallorie chapters were used to display the social and historical background of the novel. By social, it describes the hardships other families went through to sell their past lives away, their hardship traveling across the country, and the different perspective each section of society was taking as the times grew worse. Picked over their possessions for the journey west. The men were ruthless because the past had been spoiled, but the women knew how the past would cry to them in the coming days(111). In Chapter 19 it discussed the Hoovevilles and the Okies. It made known that the same ideas were running through all the other travelers heads. F we can ony get to California where the oranges grow before this here ol jug blows up. F ony we can.(153). Chapter 15 was an excellent chapter displaying the different sections of society. The waitress at a diner on Rt. 66 replied that the traveling families Come here for gas sometimes, but they dont hardly never buy nothin else. People says they steal. We aint got nothin layin around. They never stole nothin from us(203). The intercallorie chapters were also used to give Steinbecks opinions on what was happening. In Chapter 15, Steinbeck comments upon the lives of those that the waitress, Mae, referred to as shitheels. He discusses the business men, and comments that they try to believe that ..their lives are rich instead of the thin tiresome routines they know; and that a time is coming when they will not be afraid anymore(199). He makes numerous insinuations that he believes that the farmers were robbed of their land, and that he was not partial to the banks, policemen, and the president. They dont see a chance till we get rid of that fellow in the White House. Steinbeck also threw in his belief in Chapter 12, that it was a free country, after a family learned of them not letting people into California. The intercallorie chapters also were used to foreshadow the events that take place later in the novel. In Chapter 12, it displays the chaos of all the people struggling to make it to California, and for the first time, the readers are getting the inkling that Cali isnt all that its cracked up to be. In Califonia they got high wages. I got a hanbill here tells about it.. Baloney! I seen folks comin back. Somebodys kiddin you(154). It also was the first chapters to foreshadow the idea that there were a lot of people going out to California. Mae, in Chapter 15 made the comment, Wonder where they all go to(203).
While the intercallorie chapters were used to show the social and historical background, so did Steinbecks use of language. One of the best of these examples is in Chapter 15, when he uses a cent to display a symbol of the times. He is discussing how a nickel causes musicians to sing in a phonograph.
The nickel, which has caused all this mechanism to work, has caused Crosby to sing and an orchestra to play-this nickel drops from between the contact points into the box where the profits go. This nickel, unlike most money, has actually done a job of work, has been physically responsible for a reaction.(202)
This nickel can be compared to the old sharecroppers and farmers who were kicked off their land, doing the work and being dropped where all the profits go. It used to be, instead of the land being farmed by an unfeeling machine and by people who do not own it, care for it, or know the land; it was being farmed by people who actually were physically responsible for the crops production. This appears to have all gone wrong somewhere. Also found in Chapter 15, was the use of descriptive language which epitomized the traveling family of the Depression.
A 1926 Nash Sedan pulled wearily off the highway. The back seat was piled nearly to the ceiling with sacks, with pots and pans, and on the very toptwo boys rode. On the top of the car, a mattress and a folded tent; tent poles tied along the running board.The man got slowly out.and stood with a curious humility in front of the screen.his humility was insistent.(203-4)
Other than the use of symbolism and descriptive language, his use of dialect was also used for historical purposes.
Were goin,said Tom. Cop says we got to go. Mights well get her over. Get a good start an maybe well be through her. Near three hundred mile where were goin
Pa said, I thought we was gonna get a rest.
Well, we aint. We got to go.(279)
This demonstrates not only the quality of speech that these people had, but also the insistency upon them having to get going on to California before they were bullied around anymore. These people did not have a home, were welcome nowhere, and they were not properly educated.
With the extensive usage of the intercallorie chapters and Steinbecks use of language, there developed various themes.One of the most prominent of these themes is that technology influences the circle of life. This is stated most effectively in the first few chapters, its main purpose was to invoke in the reader the belief it was inevitable that the Joads had to leave their land. It happened before them, and it will happen again. Grampa killed the Indians, Pa killed snakes for the land. Maybe we can kill banks-theyre worse than Indians and snakes. Maybe we got to fight to keep our land, like Pa and Grampa did(43). Steinbeck used his powerful language to establish that the world was changing rapidly due to the technology of the tractors, and that a lot of things were dying because of it.
The driver sat in his iron seat and he was proud of the straight lines he did not will, proud of the tractor he did not own or love, proud of the power he could not control. And when that crop grew, and was harvested, no man had crumbled a hot clod in his fingers and let the earth sift past his fingertips. No man had touched the seed, or lusted for the growth. Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not lived or hated, it had no prayers or curses.(46-7)
Although the development of the tractor provided jobs for those driving it, it cut out the jobs and lives of many other people who had previously relied on the agriculture that was then dying out. What makes one man rich makes another man poor.
If they could only rotate the crops they might pump blood back into the land. Well, its too late. But-you see, a bank or a company dont do that because those creatures dont breath air, dont eat side-meat. They breath profits; they eat the interest on money. If they dont get it. They die the way you die without air, without side meat. I t is a sad thing, but it is so. It is just so.(41)
The tractors made the lucky few rich who did not have another choice, they knew that technology is part of the circle of life and they did not want to be part of the section of society that was sure to be killed after its development.
But for your three dollars a day fifteen to twenty families cant eat at all. Nearly a hundred people have to go out and wander on the roads for you three dollars a day. Is that right
And the driver said, Cant think of that. Got to think of my own kids.Times are changing mister, dont you know? Cant make a living on the land unless youve got two, five, ten thousand acres and a tractor. Crop land isnt for little guys like us any more.(48)
The people of the land adjusted, they grew and moved on into separate ways of living to continue this circle, to desperately try to grasp on to something anything that would come around a reverse the effects of the technology. Thus they changed their social life-changed as in the whole universe only a man can change. They were not farm men anymore, but migrant men(252).
It was technology, the arrival of the tractors that influenced this newfound way of life, the reason why the rich became so greedy and the banks became so powerdul. It cause all these changes of lives and the separation of family. It caused the poor man to die, and the rich man to be scared of the poor and hate the poor. It caused the loss of thousands of jobs and the development of new ones. The novel by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, was written for the purpose of displaying the effects of technology on the circle of life, and how this t technology made one man rich and many more poor.
The Grapes of Wrath, written by Steinbeck possesses many key elements which were used as symbols throughout the book. However, it does not appear to be an allegory. It has been argued that this book is a biblical allusion. It has been said that the journey that the Joads were taking to California was similar to the journey that the Jewish people made to the promised land, however California did not hold the opportunity that was promised, and many people left. Jim Casey is often compared to Jesus Christ, leading his 12 deciples to the promised land. For one he did not lead the family-Ma Joad did. He also was not leading them out of a belief in himself of anyother mystical idea. He just joined them for the ride. Another thing is, is that although Jim Casey died for his cause he did not preach anything remotely similar to Jesus Christ, unless that was the point-he was supposed to represent a neo-Jesus, and did not do his pilgrimage the same way. Basically, while their were many symbols along the way for the story to be taken as a allegory, it seems silly that it would be due to the fact that it would take away the powerfulness of the book. Many readers do not want to have to take the journey of the Joads and flip it all around and ruin it so that it becomes allegorical to others. It seems better and much more effective to society that The Grapes of Wrath is an allegory to lifes journeys and is a powerful representation of the time period.
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