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Nikhita Jingar

Mrs. Hillesland
AP English 11 — Navy
24 April 2014
The Curvy Route
California embodied a land of growth, renewal, prosperity, opportunity, etc. In the 1930s,
this state was the refuge of many migrates from Arkansas and Oklahoma who pictured it as the
land of the reborn. John Steinbeck creates this parallel in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, with
the Joads who see California as their only outlet for prosperity as compared to the Dust Bowlstricken land of Oklahoma. They become just another addition to the mass migration headed to
California—but this family has its own twist. According to Steinbeck, we a have a choice
between many paths in our young years but there is one path that everyone must follow in their
old age—the path essentially leading to death.
The main, generic path was the one lived fully by Granma, who was able to arrive in
California but didn’t get to live to experience it. She almost reached a new life but because of her
old age she wasn’t allowed to achieve it because there were people who were more important
than her. Ma Joad, while conveying the news of Granma Joad’s death, summarizes this idea,
“The fambly had ta get acrost. I tol’ her, tol’ her when she was a-dying.” Steinbeck shows us this
just generic and singular direction which everyone has to go to. He describes to us how close we
can get to a new life but the opportunity of success lays in the hands of our age. We have no
choice to stray from this direction but we have so many options in our choice of route. Since
California was the state of renewal, it seems almost fitting that Granma died en route. After she
had died, Ma looked over the valley as if she was looking at the past opportunities and the past

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lives but she also realizes that they were just that—in the past. Although subtly, Steinbeck gives
of hints of what he thinks of this path—boring and generic.
Steinbeck believes that if we are headed in this singular route, we should at least add
some curves and bends to it, which is exactly what Noah and to a certain extent Rose of Sharon
did. Although they both had two different experiences, they both represent Steinbeck’s opinion.
Noah just screams out religion and structure and when we meet him we immediately know that
he will eventually do something with a river or animals just based on him name. And he does,
just in an interesting way. Noah was one of the young Joads and was expected to travel along
with the rest to California, the land of opportunity. But he doesn’t. He makes it halfway but then
decides he wants to do exactly what Steinbeck wants us to do—add some twits to this singular
route. He leaves society to go out into nature where he can “catch fish an’ stuff.” He is the
epitome of transcendentalism. Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions
ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They believe that people are at their best when
they are truly self-reliant and independent. This term was first coined in the early nineteenth
century as a religious and philosophical movement that emphasized the unity of God. Noah
embodied this movement as he moved away from the impurities of society and towards the
freedom of nature and the purity within himself. Steinbeck never makes us meet him again
implying that Noah was successful without society on his own course towards the same singular
route as everybody else, but, of course, with his own twists.
Rose of Sharon also had her own bends. She was almost the paradox who became the
heroine of this novel at the end. She essentially starts off as the good-for-nothing daughter who is
literally just there to have children, which turns out as something she’s not successful in either—
she’s basically useless. And throughout the book she is, until the very end. She becomes the
paradox of this book because she does exactly the opposite of what society expects of her. Just

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like Noah, Steinbeck gave her her own curves on her route although she might as well have been
walking backwards on the route and still had gotten to the same place. She represents
transcendentalism just like Noah. But as mentioned before, she did everything backwards. For
example, she gave birth not to a baby but to a grown man, breastfeeding him back to life. After
arriving in California, she had been nothing but a failure in the way that society wanted her to
act—the singular, straight road—but Steinbeck didn’t make her like that because she represented
the transcendentalist idea that in order to be fulfilled, a person has to be completely self-reliant.
She was affected but society’s wants but in the end, she did what she thought was right and what
she had the power and ability to achieve. Rose of Sharon and Noah were two of the characters
that Steinbeck really wanted to emphasize in his message that we make our own paths not
society and that in order to know what’s right for us, we have to carve our own paths not one that
has already been paved. Steinbeck wanted us to understand that although there really is just one
singular path eventually leading everyone to death, what we do in between the start and the end
is up to us.
Steinbeck believed that that our lives should not be paved, outlined or determined for us
but rather we should be able to fill it in. The reoccurring theme of a singular road was
emphasized through his use of so-called backwards characters that didn’t follow society’s
straight and direct path but rather their own albeit convoluted one. These characters were the
ones who essentially survived society by following transcendentalism and not society’s structure.
In short he concluded that the beginning and the end of the road to California are paved for us,
we just have to fill in the curves.