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John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

Updated on August 24, 2012

The Grapes of Wrath summary

Beautifully employed religious tone is one of the major features of the celebrated Nobel and Pulitzer winning novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The periods of Great Depression makes the setting of the story. The novel captures the story of an impoverished family of the Joads, the sharecroppers. Drought had made them deprived of their home, and failure in the agriculture industry and associated economic hardship added to their problems. This unfortunate group of people finally leaves for California's Central Valley in search of land, jobs, and dignity.

The Grapes of Wrath themes

Religious tone in The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath Synopsis: The author of The Grapes of Wrath has given a beautiful religious touch to The Grapes of Wrath. Religion is directly indirectly and symbolically referred in numerous places in the novel. Jim Casy’s parallel character to Jesus Christ, the fanaticism of the sin watchers, and various other elements can be cited for explaining the religious tone of the novel. Symbolism is widely deployed on the novel with religious aspects embedded in it. The author presents religion as a double-edged blade in the novel; people can either chose to be kind and devout, or can become zealous reproving anybody who goes against their views. The choice of action constitutes the central theme of religion.

Symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath

symbolic reference to religion in The Grapes of Wrath

The Sin Watchers are yet another religious symbol in the novel. They point out other’s fault, and judges other on the basis of the ‘sin and consequence’ theory. The author portrays these people as evil aberrations who view others with a religious prejudice. For example the woman who berated Rose Of Sharon for her ways predicts that the latter’s baby will have a stillbirth. Later this woman attempts to convince Rose Of Sharon that it was nothing but her sins that made the baby die. This prejudice of sin and judgment is one of the crucial elements of religion.

Apart from this, in the novel Jim Casy is a kind of ‘Jesus Christ’. His actions resemble the actions of Jesus Christ. Even though this resemblance was considered as a blasphemy when the novel was first published, this imagery stands as the base of the theme of the novel. The JC initial of Jim Casy symbolizes Jesus Christ. Jim Casey is a long-time friend of the Joads, and a yester preacher. In this story, Casey symbolizes a latter-day Christ figure. This figure strives to introduce religious stability to the burgeon of migrant people facing West. The actions, trials and tribulations of Jim Casy resemble the sufferings of Christ.

The Grapes of Wrath Analysis (with quotes)

The Grapes of Wrath 1940 includes innumerable reference to religion. Jim Casy symbolizes the epitome of fear or personal reverence, in spite of his renunciation of preaching. We find Casey going to forests to ‘soul-search’ and find answers to some hidden questions. Moreover we find Casey himself making a comparison to Christ Jesus as he says "...I been in the hills, thinking, almost you might say like Jesus went into the wilderness to think His way out of a mess of troubles" (Steinbeck ch.8). Further he says that “I got tired like Him...I got mixed up like Him...I went into the wilderness like Him, without no camping stuff" (Steinbeck ch.8). Casey openly says that he and Jesus Christ are similar in certain ways. The beautiful techniques of comparison employed by the author make the reader also feel that Casey is indeed the ‘Christ’ of The Grapes of Wrath. Yet another similarity between Jim Casey and Jesus Christ arises when Casey plans to venture off and join a union group as to prevent the fall of wages. This symbolically shows the event of Jesus Christ and disciples trying to spread the message of salvation to the people. Even though lot of people wanted to follow Christ they could not do it as they were afraid to displease the elites. Similarly the migrant workers feared to displease the government and follow Casey. Casey and his followers launch a struggle which finally makes Casey lay down his life for the cause. This is parallel to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

Religious tone throughout the novel

Religion is the most notable theme of grapes of wrath. Religious symbols crop up every now and then in the novel. It is nothing but these religious symbols that supplies meaning and significance to the entire story. We find Tom encountering a snake on the way toCalifornia. As far as the Goads are concernedCaliforniais a dream place where they expect freedom and prosperity. Californiasymbolically represents ‘Garden of Eden’. The serpent in the Garden of Eden had brought divine judgment upon Adam and Eve. It is the serpent who gave them the forbidden fruit which led to the ultimate banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. SimilarlyCaliforniais forbidden for migrants and outsiders. Okies are not permitted to migrate toCalifornia. The snake that Tom encounters in the road shadows the snake of Garden of Eden. The same story of betrayal follows in the life of Goads,Californiabetrays them.

The author of The Grapes of Wrath makes countless references to religion with an intention to criticize the general outlook of the contemporary society that considered religion as the answer to their problems. Steinbeck sometimes makes a negative representation of religion to disprove the thoughts of the society. The portrayal of religion in the novel makes the reader also examine their view of the religious life.


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