John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the experiences of the Joad family from the time of their eviction from a farm near Sallisaw, Oklahoma to their first winter in California. The Joad family’s story illustrates the hardship and oppression suffered by migrant laborers during the Great Depression. The novel begins with the description of the conditions in Dust Bowl Oklahoma that ruined the crops and instigated massive foreclosures on farmland. Hundreds of families packed up what little belongings they had and traveled to California, where they hoped to find prosperity and rebuild their lives.
The Grapes of Wrath is two intertwined stories. One of the Joad family and their personal struggles, and the other of the greater effect of the Dust Bowl and depression on the massive amounts of people like the Joads. He trades off each chapter, one chapter telling the story of the Joads and the next talking about the migrants. It shows the external battle of man verses a hostile environment and the internal battles each person must fight in his or her own way, to survive. The Joads had many hardships and trials to overcome throughout their long, arduous journey.
Yet they never faltered on their path, each and every member of the family knew where they wanted to go and didn’t allow minor setbacks to stop them. They were confident they would survive their endeavors. As the story progresses the Joads progress as well, from only being concerned with their own personal welfare and survival, to being aware of the injustice toward everyone like them. This is accompanied by the disintegration of the smaller family unit, which is replaced by the larger world family of the migrant people. The character that shows this change most dramatically is Tom Joad.
When Tom comes out of prison, he is selfish and individualistic, although he has a strong love for his family. His experiences in California, coupled with the influence of his mother and Casy, increase his wisdom and greatly change him from his selfish ways. He becomes aware that he has to be concerned not only with his own family’s welfare but also with the welfare of all families. 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 the journey come changes, another important idea in the novel.
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 sees a turtle. Lying on the highway, having been missed by a car, but hit by a truck, the turtle still struggles to continue his own journey towards the southwest. Therefore, from the beginning of the novel, two journeys are taking place, one a man’s journey and the other, nature’s journey. The idea of journey now can be seen in different levels. One level being the familys actual migration from Oklahoma to California.
Another level being the Joad family as a part of a huge migration of people and other families to the west. The last level being the internal self-evaluation of each family member as they attempt to find their place within society. It seems as if journey is in all parts of this novel. It is embodied throughout 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. Steinbeck shows that we are all on a journey and staying together is the only way to keep moving forward.
This story is a vivid example of life during the 1930’s. The drought killed farmers’ crops and banks forced the farm families off their land. This was one of the worst economic downfalls during this country’s existence, and all Americans were effected by it. Farmers in the Dust Bowl region of the country were among those most severely hurt by the Depression. Grapes of Wrath shows that even through the toughest of times and in spite of overwhelming difficulties, families and friends continue to be loyal and supportive of each other.