Free Grapes of Wrath Essays: Steinbeck's Portrait of Fear

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Portrait of Fear in The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck shows throughout The Grapes of Wrath that mankind is afraid of failure. Although that fear is present in both the desperate migrant workers and the big, ruthless land owners, Steinbeck uses Al Joad's character to his full advantage t model this characteristic of man. Al's personal fear of failure motivates him to do well in life in comparison to his male role models, as well as to help support the family. This is conveyed through Al's sense of responsibility to his family, his careful nature, and his moody and defensive behavior.

Al's sense of responsibility to his family is a major element in his determination not to fail. His knowledge and operation of automobiles are Al's major contribution to the family: "He might be a musking goat sometimes, but this was his responsibility, this truck, its running, and its maintenance...And everyone respected him and his responsibility" (Steinbeck, pages 131 and 132). Al not only helps the family succeed in getting to California by taking on this responsibility, he also makes up for other areas of his character in which he feels he is failing or lacking. Such an area of character might be his apathy towards letting his family know his whereabouts when he disappears for days at a time in Oklahoma.

Al's careful nature is another obvious sign that he does not want to fail. He feels that precaution is the only way to prevent something from going wrong and ultimately failing. This is visible in his meticulous care of the truck: "Al grew tense over the wheel. A little rattle had developed in the engine. He speeded up and the rattle increased...Al blew his horn and pulled the car to the side of the road" (page 225). Al's care, though obvious only in that of the truck, definitely suggests that should he fail to properly maintain the truck, he would fail himself and his family as well. To offset such an event, Al constantly watches for and prevents any possible problems with the truck.

Al's moody and defensive behavior is also a strong example of his resolution not to fail. Although his attitude could be attributed to adolescent arrogance, one who examines Al's character can see that he has more pressure placed upon him than most of the other members of the family.
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