The Journey Theme of
The Grapes of Wrath
By Chris Small
In the Classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck displays in his writing many different and interconnected themes. The main idea of the novel can be interpreted many different ways through many of the different actions and characters throughout the novel. In the first chapter of the novel, Steinbeck describes the dust bowl and foreshadows the theme:
The men came were silent and they did not move often. And the women
came out of the houses to stand beside their men-to feel whether this
time the men would break.
As a theme, Steinbeck wanted the reader to see that humanity is on a journey, and for good or bad humanity continues to move ahead. Along with journey come changes, another important idea in the novel, which correlates directly with the main theme.
Journey is the main idea in the beginning of the novel when Tom Joad first gets out of prison and is looking for a ride home. Walking home he spots a turtle. Lying on the highway, missed by a car, hit by a truck, the turtle still struggles to continue his own journey towards the southwest. So already in the novel, two journeys are taking place, one a mans journey and the other, natures journey.
Change is evident as an idea in the novel when Tom is reunited with his childhood preacher. Jim Casy the preacher says:
the sperit aint in me no more
He says this to Tom and at the same time the turtle still struggles to escape toms jacket.
Both of these ideas are seen in Chapter 6 when Casy gets the spirit back and decides that he is going to hit the road. Both Tom and Casy head to Uncle Johns place where the rest of the Joads are living. This is where they hear of their journey westward where work can be found.
The idea of journey now can be seen in different levels. The first is literal. The fact that the journey that they are on is partly the theme of the work. Second is the general journey that they are on. They are on a journey not by themselves as a family, but part of a huge migration of people and other families to the west. The third level is a symbolic level in which the theme of journey is incorporated in many different things throughout the novel.
In the first level, Steinbeck is simply describing the things that the Joads see and experience. He uses the journey to bring up problems so that the reactions of the Joads reflect other themes such as struggle. When you read deeper into the novel you notice that the Joads journey reflects the journeys of many other migrants of that time and other times throughout history. The journey is rough and the migrants live a hard life, struggling to hang on and stay together the whole time.
The third level of reading is not always as apparent as the other two but important none the less. The third level is that there are stories of journeys within each other. Toms individual journey is the same as the Joads which is the same as the other Okies which is the same as mankinds journey which is the same as the turtles journey in the beginning of the novel. The idea is that each may not be doing the same thing but all are moving ahead. None of these knowing their outcome still move ahead.
It seems as if journey is in all parts of this novel. It is embodied throughout the novel and plays an important role in establishing a variety of things including character insights and a plot. Journey seems to be inevitable and part of life and Steinbeck shows that we are all on a journey and staying together is the only way to keep moving forward.