A Subtle Metamorphosis in The Grapes of Wrath
The spirit of unity emerges as the one unfailing source of strength in John Steinbeck¹s classic The Grapes of Wrath. As the Joad family¹s world steadily crumbles, hope in each other preserves the members¹ sense of pride, of courage, and of determination. A solitary man holds a grim future; with others to love and be loved by, no matter how destitute one is materially, life is rich. This selflessness is not immediate, however; over the course of the book several characters undergo a subtle metamorphosis.
A recently paroled Tom Joad makes his first encounter with altruism as he attempts to hitchhike with a trucker whose employer has outlawed the practice. When the trucker points out the "No Riders" (11) sign his truck carries, Tom replies, "ŒBut sometimes a guy¹ll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.¹" (11) Steinbeck has cleverly cornered the man by utilizing a tool often implemented in Depression-era literature: the classification of the guilty rich as anonymous, thus convincing the trucker that he is "not one whom any rich bastard could kick around." (11) Still, this generous gesture is caused by shame and guilt, not by an independent moral factor.
The notion of a collective spirit is explored when Tom meets the former preacher, Casy. Casy has given up classical religion because it lacks pragmatism and overemphasizes escapism. In a thesis statement that is repeated several times, he says, "ŒMaybe it¹s all men and women we love; maybe that¹s the Holy Sperit‹the human speritŠMaybe all men got one big soul and ever¹body¹s a part of.¹" (33) At this early poin...
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...ity. Rose of Sharon is selfish throughout most of the trip, especially when it comes to milk for her unborn baby. When Winfield needs milk to regain strength, she pouts, "I ain¹t had no milk. I oughta have some." (543) After delivering a stillborn baby, the family happens upon a starving man. She doesn¹t need to be prodded into breast-feeding him; "the two woman [Ma and Rose] looked deep into each other" (618) is all the interaction necessary. Her symbolic gesture of looking past her own worries to aid another, of giving of herself to inject another with life, of placing the nutrients designed for a relative into the body of a stranger, is a fitting way to end the book. That she "smiled mysteriously" (619) at this action means she has gained the knowledge Casy spoke of at the beginning of the book, proving that even the most selfish have room for redemption.
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