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The Grapes of Wrath - The Meaning of the Title

 

 

One of the most important parts of a book is its title. Some authors like to put a meaning in their title that can only be understood once the book has been read. John Steinbeck, the author of The Grapes of Wrath is no exception.

 

This title can be understood better if both the book and the song "Battle Hymn of the Republic" are read. The title originally came from this song, which was written during the civil war in 1861, by Julia Ward Howe. Julia and her husband became part of the U.S. sanitary commission for the sanitary conditions in the Prisoner of War camps. She visited many Prison camps along with many Union Army camps. While visiting a camp one of the soldiers, who had read some of her poetry, asked her to write a song for the war effort. "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was the song she wrote for the men fighting.

 

Since she was very religious, Julia incorporated her religion in her song. This can be found throughout the entire song, including its title. The word hymn is usually used when talking about a song sung at church. One of her lyrics even says "the Lord." Every time the word "he" is in her song it is capitalized, which usually means God. "As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free"(Howe ) is another lyric in the song that refers to Jesus. In the Bible, Jesus died on the cross so that everyone's sins would be forgiven making them holy and allowed to enter heaven.

 

The lyrics "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored"(Howe) is where Steinback got the title for his book. Literally a vintage is where wine is made out grapes. The grapes of wrath are refering to the struggles of men. When someone has a goal they want to accomplish, they will try their hardest to accomplish it. If something was to happen to get in the way of someone accomplishing their dream, most people would get angry. In the song, the vintage is where all of that anger, or wrath, is kept.

 

The book The Grapes of Wrath is the story of a family, the Joads, struggling to get to California. Their goal is to reach California and find jobs so they can buy their own house. The book takes place during the depression when jobs were very scarce so noone in the book can find work. Also during this time people in California did not like the people they called "Okies" who were the farmers who moved to California in search of jobs just like the Joad family. The people of California looked down upon the okies and showed it by treating the okies badly. Some business men took advantage of all the okies and told many of them about job offerings. They told more people about this job offering than they needed, making the wages go down. This kind of treatment is the very thing that stands in between the Joads and their goal, which angers them and sadens them. The same goes for every other family like them.

 

The first time the title is used in the book are the lines " . . . and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage"(Steinback 449). Before this quote

 

the chapter talks about how men are throwing out good food because they can't make a profit, and to make sure no one picks up the free food instead of the food in their stores, the men pour kerosine on food or have guards to make sure no one takes the food or bury the food. The people who are starving have to watch this happen and cannot do anything about it. The hungry have one goal, that is to eat, but there are people in their way of their goal making them angry.

 

"They splashed out through the water, to the towns,to the country stores, to the relief offices, to beg for food, to cringe and beg for food, to beg for relief, to try to steal, to lie. And under the begging, and under the cringing, a hopless anger began to smolder. And in the little towns pity for the sodden men changed to anger, and anger at the hungry people changed to fear of them" (Steinback 555)

 

This quote shows what happens when all the anger builds up. The poor start to steal because they cannot reach their goal of finding a job because there is always something in their way.

 

The book and the song have another connection besides the title. In the song "Battle Hymn of the Republic" the lyric "I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps" is talking about how God is everywhere. The book has a quote similar to that lyric.

 

"Then I'll be all aroun' in the dark. I'll be ever'where-wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I'll be in the way

 

guys yell when they're mad an' - I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the suff they raise an' live in the houses they build - why, I'll be there." (Steinback 537).

 

Earlier in the book one of the characters was talking about how every soul is part of one big soul. So everyone is apart of everyone else

 

 

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