AP Language & Composition Summer Assignment

Rohan Bardhan The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1. Tom‟s imprisonment causes him to be much more restrained and careful than he would normally be. If he commits a crime, he will be arrested and sent “back to McAlester for three years” (Steinbeck 58). Tom is a vital part of the Joad family unit, something which he knows and accepts. His time in prison has given him the responsibility and maturity to realize that for the sake of the family, he cannot do anything rash; to do so would be to jeopardize the rest. In California, as hard as he tries to avoid trouble, he is still “scairt [he‟ll] kill one” (Steinbeck 280). This is one of the motives for the family‟s movement to the government camp. Since there are no deputies, Tom knows it will be far easier to control himself and assist everyone else. When they have to leave the camp, however, Tom is in the same situation as before. After Casy is killed, Tom kills the man who killed the preacher. He knows that he is “a danger now… [he] got to go” away and leave the family, believing that it he is taking the danger away with him (Steinbeck 391). Of course, Tom‟s leadership and importance mean that things will only be harder for the Joads without him. Tom‟s time in prison makes him more cautious and aware of his position. He does his best to avoid compromising his family, but is only able to prolong the moment when he must abandon his family.

2. Steinbeck‟s novel is littered with biblical connections. As the Joad family is getting ready to leave Uncle John‟s house, Noah stands and watches as “the rest swarmed up on top of the load, Connie and Rose of Sharon, Pa and Uncle John, Ruthie and Winfield, Tom and the

preacher” (Steinbeck 113). Steinbeck lists the people in pairs for a reason: to create a parallel between the family and Noah‟s Ark, where two of each animal are loaded onto an ark – the truck – by a man named Noah. Just as Noah must continue the human race, the Joads must continue their family line by gathering all their possessions and leaving. Another example is the portrayal of California as the Promised Land. The whole family believes that their destination will be a land of beautiful weather, plentiful food, and wealth. It “seems too nice” – so nice, in fact, that Ma is “scared of stuff so nice” (Steinbeck 90-91). Like the Hebrews leaving Egypt, the Joads face many difficulties as they attempt to leave Oklahoma for California. Jim Casy‟s actions can be likened to that of Jesus Christ‟s. The two even have the same initials. In the preacher‟s own words, “I got tired like Him, an‟ I got mixed up like Him, an‟ I went into the wilderness like Him” (Steinbeck 81). He also challenges the authorities supporting the poor, and dies for it. Towards the end of the novel, the oppression of the workers becomes a main theme, which is why Casy‟s involvement is much more important than it seems. Finally, Uncle John‟s decision to send Rose of Sharon‟s stillborn down the river is similar to the tale of Moses being sent down the Nile River as a baby. He reasons that “that‟s the best way [it] can talk” and spread the message of the hardship of the migrant families (Steinbeck 448).

3. Steinbeck is showing the middle and upper class capitalists how and why a socialist economy appeals to the working class. There is no question that the economy is capitalist, for “the more fellas he can get…less he‟s gonna pay” (Steinbeck 190). So many people in California are desperate for work that wherever there is a work opportunity, more people will show up than are needed. As a result, the employer can set the wages as low as he likes because the

demand for work is so high. This decidedly capitalist concept is met with the socialist idea of a strike. The strike is the reason the Joad family was able to find work picking peaches: they “was breakin‟ strike” according to Tom (Steinbeck 390). Unfortunately for the strikers, their attempt is smothered by the sheer number of migrants present who are willing to work. Jim Casy, the leader of the strike who dies at its conclusion, is Steinbeck‟s main proponent of socialist ideas. He tells Tom that when he was in prison, “one fella started yellin‟, an‟ nothin‟ happened…then another fella…then we all got yelling…they come a-runnin‟, and they give us some other stuff” (Steinbeck 382). This shows how a group of people come together to form a union which has a voice and can accomplish more than a single person can. It is a decidedly socialist concept, and it reinforces Steinbeck‟s view that socialism appeals to the lower classes because they gain more through it than capitalism.

4. The novel shows that capitalism in the time is an awful system for the migrant people. “It don‟t make no sense” according to Pa, referring to the method in which employers attract more workers than are needed in order to justify lowering wages (Steinbeck 189). This is certainly criticizing capitalism as Steinbeck reiterates throughout the novel that the employment system in California is not logical. Steinbeck lays bare the flaws in the system but although they are made visible to the readers, the migrant people are stuck in it and cannot escape the cycle of poverty. They can only look at what matters most: “a fella got to eat…a fella got a right to eat” (Steinbeck 375). The family can barely save any money due to the economy in California, and it all goes to food. There is no way for families like the Joads to break out of the system; if they speak out they are either arrested or blacklisted and cannot find work anywhere. Although Steinbeck is certainly pointing out the flaws of capitalism, he

is not particularly promoting socialism either. Tom refers to himself as “bolshevisky” when labeled as a troublemaker (Steinbeck 192). The connection between a troublemaker and a socialist reminds the readers that the economic hierarchy is capitalist, and strongly disapproves of anything even remotely socialist. Steinbeck is clearly demonstrating through the novel that although the capitalist American vision is important, it is detrimental to many people in such hard times.

5. In the beginning of the story, the Joads have a strict, rigid definition of what the family is and of each person‟s place in the family. The first example of this is the family conference before leaving for California. Each family member has a set place in the group. Casy knows that is a family ritual and so stays away from the meeting until he “knew he had been taken into the family” (Steinbeck 103). However, as the group travels across the country to California, this close-knit circle breaks: Granma and Grampa both die; Connie and Noah leave; and Tom is forced to go. However, new people become part of the family. The “Joads and Wilsons crawled westward as a unit” after they meet, a bond created after Grandpa dies in the Wilsons‟ tent (Steinbeck 163). The Wilsons and the Joads are now connected and are, to all intents and purposes, part of the same family. They help each other because they are all in the same boat. Ma sums it up best: “use‟ ta be the fambly was fust. It ain‟t so now. It‟s anybody. Worse off we get, the more we got to do” (Steinbeck 445). The migrant people all know each other‟s struggles, and their way of life forces them to help anybody out no matter what. In the end, the migrant people become one large family.

6. Before the farming people became migrants, the role of women in society was strictly defined. The women raised children, performed household chores, and supported the men; the men ruled the family and made the most important decisions. In the family conference, Al participates with the men for the first time, whereas before “he had stood behind with the women” (Steinbeck 100). Since the men are making the decisions, the women stand in the background, only speaking when called upon. Women, according to Steinbeck, are undoubtedly inferior to men. However, as the farming people become migrant people, the families face a completely new environment, an environment in which the men are just as confused as the women. During the Joad family‟s journey, the authority of men versus women begins to balance out. One example of this is when the Wilsons‟ car breaks down and Tom suggests the family split up. Ma does not like this idea, and refuses to agree to it. At this point, “she was the power. She had taken control,” and Pa and the other men have no choice but to submit to her will (Steinbeck 169). When Ma decides that the family has to leave the government camp, the family has to agree. Pa says that “time was when a man said what we‟d do. Seems like women is tellin‟ now” (Steinbeck 352). Ma is making more and more important decisions, decisions which are usually made by men. Due to the difficult times, the women are stepping up and filling formerly male roles in the family. Steinbeck is showing the shift through the hardships faced by the migrant people.

7. The extreme contrast between the beginning and the end of The Grapes of Wrath is a symbol of the changes which the Joad family endures as they cross the country to California. The hard times are highlighted by the extremes of the change. In the beginning, the land is dry and the “red sun…a dim red circle” oppressively pierces the earth with its rays (Steinbeck 2).

At the end, the area the Joads are in is completely flooded. This parallels the actual situation the family is in. The situation is bleak for them in the beginning, so they are forced to travel west. And although the rains in California may seem like a blessing, the floods which accompany them are a curse: just like the initial promise and hope of employment in California which quickly turned into a nightmare. The numerous references to the color red in beginning of the novel are symbolic in that the agitators in California are labeled as reds. Oklahoma is a “red country” with a red sun; the people who come from there are called by a name which describes the very country from which they came. Everything in the novel is a symbol of change: “the crops changed” in California, the family changes, and the land changes (Steinbeck 232). However, despite these changes, the migrant people stay strong and endure each change and hardship they encounter.

8. Considering the economic environment at the time the novel was written, Steinbeck‟s purpose is clear. The Grapes of Wrath is clearly a book written to criticize capitalism. Although capitalism is an economic system, it defines social structure in society (as does socialism). In the government camp, a man describes a union in Ohio; “storekeepers and legioners an‟ people like that, they get drillin‟ an‟ yellin‟, „Red!‟” because the workers formed a socialist union (Steinbeck 345). In this passage, Steinbeck is describing the capitalist intolerance of socialism by using capitalists to label the poor as Reds, or socialists. The poor, in this way, become the enemy of the government and have no hope of breaking the cycle in which they are stuck. Later, when Jim Casy is leading a strike outside the land the Joads are working on, he talks about a man he met in jail. This man talks about Revolutions and how in the social system, there is no chance for unions to succeed because

“them sons-a-bitches turned” against the leaders as soon as there is pressure from the authorities (Steinbeck 384). Another insightful comment Casy makes is regarding the paradox of the rich man: If [a rich man] needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it ‟cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he‟s poor in hisself, there ain‟t no million acres gonna make him feel rich, an‟ maybe he‟s disappointed that nothin‟ he can do‟ll make him feel rich (Steinbeck 207). This man, who has gotten to the top of the ladder in capitalist America and has everything he could want, still doesn‟t have enough. Steinbeck feels that this situation gives the poor an even lesser chance because they are being more or less ruled by those who will always want more. Although nothing Steinbeck writes directly promotes socialism, The Grapes of Wrath is littered with attacks on capitalism. 9. According to the EPA, “in 1935, the number of farms in the United States peaked at 6.8 million;” today, that number is down to 2.2 million. Then, just as now, the majority of these are relatively small farms, owned by families or small groups. Today, 5% of all farms are owned by corporations or trusts. The growing number of corporate farms is what forced families such as the Joads to move. These families faced a simple problem: “the land is poor…the tenant system won‟t work any more” (Steinbeck 32-33). The economic problems during the Great Depression were another issue. “[The banks] breathe profits…if they don‟t get it, they die,” and during a depression the banks had to do whatever they could to get the money they needed – even at the expense of small farmers (Steinbeck 32). Today, although the banks still need money as the country pulls itself out of a recession, small farmers are not in as much trouble. The U.S. is not longer so dependent on agriculture; the economy is now

service-based. Farms in America, therefore, are not in as much trouble as they were 80 years ago. Works Cited: Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking, 1939. Print. "Demographics." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 07 Aug. 2013. http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/demographics.html

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