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In the novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck brings to the reader a variety of diverse and greatly significant characters. However, the majority of each characters' individuality happens to lie within what they symbolize in the microcosm of the Joad family and their acquaintances, which itself stands for the entire migrant population of the Great Depression era. One such character is that of Jim Casey, a former preacher and long-time friend of the Joads. In this story, Casey represents a latter-day Christ figure who longs to bring religious stability to the burgeon of migrant families facing West.
Steinbeck manages to give Jim Casey the exact initials as the historical savior (J.C.), which allows the reader to latch onto this connection from the beginning. Yet, Casey's relation to Christ goes beyond such mere coincidences, and plays out rather in their similar plans of action. One of the many similarities between Casey and Christ is that Casey had also drifted out to the forests in order to "soul-search" and discover the answers to sometimes hidden questions. In this particular situation, Casey himself states the comparison of Christ's and his actions while giving a grace at the Joad's breakfast table, "...I been in the hills, thinkin', almost you might say like Jesus went into the wilderness to think His way out of a mess of troubles" (Steinbeck ch.8). Casey further goes on during his rather rambling grace, "I got tired like Him...I got mixed up like Him...I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin' stuff" (Steinbeck ch.8). With Casey's character openly admitting, without seeming conceited, that he and Jesus Christ are in some way similar, it continues to bluntly let the reader come to realize that Casey was indeed meant to be the Christ figure of this book.
Yet another similarity between Jim Casey and Jesus Christ can be seen when Casey decides to venture off and join a union group in order to prevent strike wages from falling even farther. This represents the event of Jesus Christ and his faithful disciples, traveling with him in an effort to spread their beliefs throughout the people as a whole. In addition, there were many people who wanted to follow Christ and his quest, yet they declined due to fear of persecution, just as the migrant workers feared an upset of government retaliation against trouble-makers or "reds".
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However, the greatest significance regarding Jim Casey as a Christ figure occurs when the security officers discover Casey and his "followers", initiating a struggle and eventually stealing his life with the aid of an ax handle. These events are parallel to Christ's crucifixion in order to preserve the heart of his cause of religious reform. Also, after Casey had passed, the strike could no longer hold and wages plummet deeper, just as the upper class citizens began to regain the advantage over the oppressed Christian members of society.
Aside from these occurrences in common, there lie a great deal of others. Steinbeck clearly presents Jim Casey as a definite Depression-era representation of Christ in the first portion of the story, while further evidence is present throughout the entire novel. The author uses the character of Jim Casey as a vessel to portray the importance of religion in peoples' lives in such times of hardship, when a family's unity and faith in God were the only things that kept them going.