A study of the characters in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, reveals man’s indomitability and endurance. Steinbeck potently suggests that there is a distinct time in life where the choice must be made to either sacrifice one’s spirit, or to stay true to one’s self. In spite of their lack of food and without having a direct promise of a stable job, the Joad family perceptibly allow their spirit to lead them to obtain their individual goals. Evidently, the theme of spiritual survival ultimately determines whether one will succeed or fail.
The Joad family maintain faith within themselves during the times when most become discouraged and defeated. Nowhere other than in The Book of Job, in The Old Testament, is spiritual survival better articulated. Both the Joad family and Job endure pain and suffering in its worst form. However, both conquer their hardships with undying strength and hope: “Then said his wife unto him, ‘Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God, and die’. But he said unto her, ‘Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What! Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’”. In The Book of Job, as well as in The Grapes of Wrath, spirit and dignity guide the characters toward survival. Any individual may succeed in times of joy; however, to triumph over the most oppressing of life’s moments is the true measure
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of one’s spirit and faith.
Although each survive in their own distinguishable manner, both Grandpa and Grandma Joad withstand against the tests of one’s faith. Grandpa Joad illustrates significant strength and optimism in his decision to stay on his land. After an oppressive drought storm demolishes their farming lands, many Oklahoman families are driven off their homes and toward the promised land of California; however, Grandpa Joad will not be subdued by the difficulties that aim to defeat him. The resemblance between a man and his farming land is made quite evident throughout the novel as it signifies one’s pride and dignity. In a sense, the remnant of the characters sacrifice their pride and home, in exchange for survival. Grandpa Joad is a patent exception, as he unremittingly decides to stay behind in Oklahoma.
Grandpa Joad’s land symbolizes his pride. He will not relinquish his dignity regardless as to what is conniving against him: “If a man owns a little property, that property is him it’s a part of him, and it’s like him” (Steinbeck 50).
Grandpa Joad illustrates the importance of staying true to one’s inner self and not allowing their spirits to be discouraged. Their spirits seem to be the only thing they have left. This rigid character considers his inner vitality and spirit above all else, when he made his decision to stand alone in Oklahoma. His optimistic outlook on life is what pulls him through. Although their home was a huge part in every character’s pride, Grandpa understood that without his land he would be numbed and significantly lifeless. “Oh he was breathin’. . . but he was dead. He was that place and he knowed it” ( 199).
Grandpa Joad accepted where he needed to be in order to survive spiritually; consequently, Grandpa Joad was sentiently triumphant in his life.
Just as the turtle struggles to reposition himself and move forward, Grandma Joad also
battles her hardships. “ The land turtles crawled through the dust and the sun whipped the earth . . . the earth sent up a wave of heat from itself” (222).
She too strains herself to sustain the destitution and heat. Although she does not live through the heat and penury, her spirit leads her to California, which essentially was her final destination in life. In her weakest of days, Grandma Joad’s spirit is revealed in a stoic manner. The journey to their promise land was exerting, and even more so for Grandma Joad: “Granma had convulsions from the heat” (222).
... of broken dreams reoccurs in this novel through many characters, such as Lennie, George, Candy and Crooks. ... by John Steinbeck. Everyone has dreams, and the characters in the novel are no different. But sometimes ... and Lennies dream of owning a little patch of land. Candy just wants to abandon this harsh reality ... their dream of owning a little patch of land.George and Lennie cling to their belief that ...
When her final yearnings are valued, it is not her physical endurance that carries her to California, for she is very weak, it is her spiritual stamina. Consequently, this character survives as she “got to lay her head down in California” (311) in her final breaths. Although some consider Grandma Joad a failing character in the novel, her persistence leads her to where she wishes to be; only then does she allow herself to pass away. After all substantial goals are achieved in life, one has done all they are spiritually capable of. Grandma Joad did just that. She not only compels herself through the demanding times, but she also made the influential decision, earlier on, to refuse to be persecuted by the austerity of their time. Instead, Grandma Joad consumes her misfortunes in life, and did all she could to survive in a time of poverty and desperation.
While considering particular characters in The Grapes of Wrath, spiritual indomitability is proven to also be gained throughout momentous obstacles in life. Rose of Sharon is a clear example of gained spiritual indomitability. She does not make the decision to endure and accept fate’s circumstances at first; instead, this character chose to complain and weep over her severities. Rose of Sharon’s sense of faith is not in place during the first half of the Joad’s journey; however, after every calamity she endures, this character discovers her willingness to survive against all odds. Nonetheless, family and friends of spiritual and merciful characteristics teach this naive young girl, without directly articulating anything, how to survive. Critic, Brian
Philips, concurs. “ The Joads stand as exemplary figures in their refusal to be broken by the circumstances that conspire against them. At every turn, them. Steinbeck is intent on showing the dignity and honour his characters possess, as well as the importance of maintaining self respect in order to survive spiritually”. Rose of Sharon adapts to her family’s survival techniques and develops a genuine feeling of commiseration for man kind. Ma Joad teaches her family the significance of surviving spiritually by supporting others. “It don’t take no nerve to do somepin when there ain’t nothin’ else you can do” (301).
... great migration westward. This novel portrays the life of the Joad family who go through the harsh struggles of poverty and migration ... attraction between them, but neither would admit it. At the time of Grandpa's death, her religion is characterized by the ... is acknowledged by the rest of the family to be supreme. Of her emotional strength Tom says. 'Her hazel eyes seemed to ...
Thus, Rose of Sharon considers this thought as she witnesses a weak and starving man, of whom is near death. After having a stillborn, Rose of Sharon rises above her hardships to give her milk to this dying man: “Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. ‘You got to,’ she said. She squirmed closer and pulled him close. ‘There!’ she said. ‘There.’ Her hand moved behind his head and supported it.” (619).
Rose of Sharon’s strength is now deciphered as indomitable. Her progressive character advances from a complaining, naive and superstitious girl, into a maternal and caring figure. She cannot be defeated by fate any longer; thus, Rose of Sharon reaches spiritual success.
Perseverance and the ability to move forward are two qualitites belonging to Tom Joad; his dignity will not allow him to give up. Tom has made mistake after mistake and has been through the most rigid of times; however, he always manages to maintain his undying spirit. Just as Tom has been tarnished by fate, the turtle has been damaged: “it’s shell dragged dirt over the seeds. . . and jerked itself along” (22).
In spite of everything, Tom believes that he must remain whole for his family. Tom’s self acclaimed responsibility to his family and friends is like no other, as his spirit allows himself to deem them above all else at times of disaster. He believes one man is not strong enough alone, and therefor despairingly seeks to support those around him: “says a wilderness ain’t no good, ‘cause his little piece of soul wasn’t good ‘less it was with the rest, an’ was whole. . .but I know now a fella ain’t no good alone” (570).
Tom’s strength is similar to the biblical character, Job, as he accepts life’s high and low points and is not ruined by either. Tom ultimately respects and honors individuals who strive to earn honest work.
Tom’s character seems somewhat callous, as he rarely articulates his feelings; however, Tom’s spirit may be clearly seen in the work he does for his family and friends. When his favored friend, Casey, places himself in a struggle against local guards at a camp, Tom is there battling on his friend’s side. Although this ultimately sends Tom Joad into permanent hiding, his spirit remains potent. Even in his departure from his family, this character still aches to be supporting them spiritually: “I’ll be ever’where – wherever you look. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. . . I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready” (572) under any circumstance. His fortitude and bravery will not allow him to give up easily . Tom Joad rules to stay true to his family and friends, under any happening, and his faith in himself allows this to occur. Tom’s humane compassion for life is passed on to those he anchors; thus, the chain of spiritual survival is continued in everyone he confides in.
... within the family are characterized differently in each character. Mrs. Joad's primary concern is keeping the family unit together ... to survive and be treated with respect. Tom's family now becomes all the homeless who are ... as they saw fit. Those having a hard time were helped as a matter of course not ... and goes with his fiance's family. Even Young Tom leaves after he has accidentally killed another ...
Ironically, the preacher, Casey, loses his spirit during these times of desperation. Casey decides to let the abundance of trials defeat him, as he feels he can no longer endure them. After the drought ruins their lands, and the banks confiscate what is left of their homes, undying spirits wasn’t no hope for me, an’ I was a damned ‘ol hypocrite” (29).
He not only feels hopeless in himself, but Casey’s hope for others is pessimistic as well. When interrogated about his retirement of preaching, Casey becomes sensitive to the discussion. After this detrimental burden
to their land, Casey’s feelings of dread lead him to question God. At times of destitution, confusion will often come. Time is required for Casey to reconcile his beliefs and to realize that he must not resign his spirit just because it is not parallel to the bible. In spite Casey’s lack of belief towards his old worships, he still maintains passionate outlooks on individuals and life. Casey has commuted his clear admiration for people into an attempt to show them that their
strength lays in collaborative groups of families and friends. The Preacher then begins to instill
hope in groups of workers that are being taken advantage of. Thus, this character regains his
spirit and uses this to help others feel empowered at times of need: “Them cops been sayin’ how
they’re a gonna beat the hell out of us an’ run us outta the country . . . I’m a leader cause I talk so
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Definitively, this preacher sacrifices himself for his friends, as he is murdered in the
end of the novel by attackers. His character, “J.C”, is Christ like in his masteries to pose his life
in exchange for the well being of others. Casey’s distinct ability to be self sacrificial in times of
indigence and to provide spiritual dreams to otherwise helpless souls, is what genuinely makes
him a successful character in The Grapes of Wrath.
Essentially the template of strength in a time of misery, Ma Joad provides the family with
both physical and ethical health. Her proficiency in maintaining a disciplined spirit within her
family, is successful as she battles against life’s obstacles. Regardless to the grim experiences she
is faced with, she manages to rise above all else to support her family when in need.
Ma Joad thoroughly understands fate’s ways as a survival test for her family. “They’re a
working away at our spirits. They’re a -tryin’ to make us cringe and crawl like a whipped bitch.
They’re trying to break us” (381).
Ma will not let this happen. Perhaps her most admirable
quality is her prophetic perceptions. Ma Joad’s intuition is vatic, as she explains to her family the “new time” that is approaching them, referring to the Depression as well as Exodus. “Maybe
that’s what makes us tough. Rich fellas come up an’ they die. . .an’ they die out, Tom. A
different times a comin’”(383).
Just as the Hebrews were forced into migrating to a new time and
a new home, in the 2nd Book of Law within The Holy Bible, the Joad family is pressured into a
`new life. When the weather is poor, the food is gone and occurrences for the migrants could not
be worse, Ma Joad is present to push her family toward spiritual survival, toward success. All
characters in The Grapes of Wrath endure moments of profound self pity; however, Ma does not
establish an opportunity to wallow. Instead, she works to protect her family from outer aspects
that may essentially break an individual’s strength.
Naive and influential, Rose of Sharon is taunted by a unduly religious woman, of whom
panics her into believing the baby to come will be damned for life. As Ma Joad understands how
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easily one may be broken in desperate times, she will go to any extreme to protect her family’s
spirit: “Ma got herself in hand again. ‘If she comes back, I might hit her. I ain’t sure. I won’t let
her worry my girl no more” (439).
Ultimately, Ma Joad shields her family from unnecessary hurt and anguish. The skepticism and suspicion towards strangers is promoted by her sense of responsibility to her family. Not only does she consider them before herself, but she questions everyone that may possibly be opting to place any further burdens upon her family’s spirit. After being presented with countless dispositions all at one moment, Ma becomes somewhat paranoid in regards to the intentions of those she is unfamiliar with: “She looked at him suddenly and closely, to see how he had come so close so quickly. She looked for a motive in his face and found nothing but friendliness” ( 416).
However, inspiration is seen as Ma Joad will not let anything
else harm her kin. Her sense of dignity and self acclaimed responsibility to her family’s spirit is what ultimately keep the family a successful unit. Critic George Ehrenhaft, exemplifies
Ma’s character to be undelete and necessary in the family’s spiritual survival: “The migrant
families will endure regardless of any hardship they meet, for when defeat is near they can depend
on dauntless figures like Ma Joad to carry them through”. Essentially, Ma Joad holds the family
together through the progression from the loss of innocence and lack of soul in life. Ma’s protection and shield over her family helps create an optimistic light in the dark atmosphere of despair.
Compassion and the abstruse ability to be self-sacrificial, are qualities that are difficult to
maintain during poverty and confusion; nonetheless, Ma Joad provides for others the things that she does not have herself. Her strength is more powerful and rare than any other mentioned character. Just as Job, in The Old Testament, endures the loss of his animals, land, children and is cursed with horrid boils, Ma persists through life’s asperities.
While staying at a camp with many other poverty stricken families, her true compassion and grace for mankind is illustrated. Children from a neighboring tent smell Ma’s dinner, and while the amount of food is limited, she offers the children small rations of her dinner. Without a word or mention of this profound deed, Ma sacrificed her only meal, for strangers: “S’pose you was cookin’ a stew an’ a bunch a little fellas stood aroun’ moonin’, what’d you do? We don’t have enough, but you ain’t gonna keep it when they look at you like that” (353).
Her consideration for her family, friends and even toward strangers is painfully refreshing, as her deeds are inconceivably full of undying spirit.
Through the study of gracious and unfolding characters in The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck creates the theme of spiritual survival. Regardless to conspiring events, one must endure life’s asperities in order to reach true success. In spite of appalling hardships the Joad family is presented with, their indomitable spirits shield them from failure and guide them tooptimism.