Grapes of Wrath Essay: Steinbeck's Use of Universal Archetypes

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Use of Universal Archetypes in The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck sets his novel The Grapes of Wrath during the Depression of the 1930's. Universal archetypes play a significant role in Steinbeck’s story. Steinbeck creates a cast of characters whose archetypes can be easily related to. The Earthmother, haven versus hell, and the evil figure with the ultimately good heart are archetypes described in The Grapes of Wrath to show the bad and good times during a time of hardships.

During a period of arduous and zestful moments, the archetypal Earthmother can be identified in the Joad household. Ma Joad is the citadel in the family. She thinks and cares not for herself but for the family and people. Ma has helped keep the family stable, " She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook" (96). Even in times when food was scarce, Ma spared what she could to help those without. Ma said, "´ Look, you little fellas go an' get you each a flat stick an' I'll put what's lef' for you '" (331). The Earthmother is characterized by the willingness and thoughtfulness in helping and nurturing the family and fellow neighbors. Ma's daughter, Rose of Sharon, gradually changes to an Earthmother. Rose of Sharon finds herself being concerned with the welfare of her baby. She is in constant worry about whether she is giving enough nutrients from milk and food to bring a healthy baby in the world. Rose of Sharon's final act of nurturing shows how she accepts her role as Earthmother. " She looked up and across the barn and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously" (589). With this smile, the mystery of motherhood is understood by Rose of Sharon. Though she was unable to g...

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...a sanctuary and a place of peace and beauty while the hells are gruesome and of cruelty.

In the Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck incorporates the Earthmother, the evil figure with the ultimately good heart, and the haven versus hell as archetypes to describes the characters and the situations in the novel that the migrants experiences on their excursion through the enjoyable and mendacious times. Ma and Rose of Sharon for there nurturing and caring of others characterized the Earthmother. Not only the Joads, but also other migrants encountered the evil figure with the ultimately good heart. The Haven and the hell are both symbolic of the dwellings the migrants and the Joads went through. These are archetypes that are described in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in order to create a story of real life experiences during the depression of the 1930's.