, Research Paper
“Themes in “The Grapes of Wrath”
John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California February 27th 1902. He was the third of four children and the only son of John Ernst Steinbeck II, manager of a flour mill, and Olive Hamilton Steinbeck, a former teacher. Steinbeck said of his youth, (”We were poor people with a hell of a lot of land which made us think we were rich people, even when we couldn’t buy food and were patched.”) Steinbeck used the area where he grew up as the setting for many of his stories. He attended Stanford University for a few years. He had to work to pay for his education, and sometimes took off one quarter to pay for the next. (He worked as a clerk in several stores, was a hand in a ranch, and even worked at the Spreckels Sugar Company where he gained knowledge of labor problems he would later write about in The Grapes of Wrath.) Other books by Steinbeck include Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, and Cannery Row. He died in New York City on December 20th 1968.
A constant theme in our story is the suffering of humans. As F.W. Watt says,
(The primary impact of The Grapes of Wrath…is not to make us act, but to make us understand and share a human experience of suffering and resistance.)
Steinbeck shows us that his characters, as well as all people must endure suffering as human beings. Humans suffer due to many factors. Religious suffering is one factor which is self imposed.
(When we first see Casy he is explaining to Tom Joad how he left preaching, not merely because of the lusts that plagued him, but because religious faith as he knew it seemed to set up codes of behavior which denied human nature its proper and full expression)
Religious suffering is perhaps epitomized in Jesus Christ, and Joseph Fontenrose believes the tragic character of Casey is believed to be the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ himself.
(Jim Casy’s initials are JC, and he retired to the wilderness to find spiritual truth and came forth to teach a new doctrine of love and good works…Casy sacrificed himself for others when he surrendered himself as the man who had struck a deputy
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Penguin Books USA Inc, Copyright 1939.
James J. Martine (ed.), Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume Nine, Bruccoli Clark Books, Copyright 1981.
Harold Bloom (ed.), Bloom’s Notes, Chelsea House Publishers, Copyright 1996.
David Wyatt (ed.), New Essays on The Grapes of Wrath, Cambridge University Press, Copyright 1990.
Carolyn Riley, Phyllis Mendelson (editors), Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale Company, Copyright 1976. Excerpt from Wilson McWilliams, John Steinbeck, Writer, reprinted with permission of Commonweal Publishing Company.