John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath

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Authors and their themes/john Steinbeck and the Grapes of Wrath

al.3/prejudice/gow.themes al.2/gow/gow.themes

Ralph Maltese

When I read The Grapes of Wrath in high school, it turned me into a political creature.  I began to question political forces and tried to understand the injustices of modern society.  As a teacher it saddened me to learn that teachers would not teach the novel because, “It was too long.”  The truth is not learned in sound bites.  How are students going to be acclimated to reading long and challenging material in college if all they read are cartoon captions?  For those teachers willing to engage the students in substantial literary works, here are my themes for the novel. You might also want to read my  The Grapes of Wrath Student Guideline.


1)    Structure of the novel--intercalary chapters--microcosm, macrocosm

2)    Biblical structure----Egypt, Exodus, Promised Land

3)    Biblical names ..... -Noah, "Joad," Rose of Sharon (Christ) Jim Casy, Ruthie, desert, Pharoh (who is the is Pharoh in the novel?) Tom as disciple. Jim Casy and the devil in the beginning, Jim Casy's "crucifixion," "You don't know what you are doing.” Are Jim’s last words.  What were Christ’s last words….”Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”?

4)    Intercalary chapters--the turtle, Mae and, used car salesman, the title of the novel is in chapter 30  --see student notes on intercalary chapters.

5)    Newspaper reporters found conditions worse than Steinbeck claimed

6)    The Bank-........ people are doing this to other. people. Can't
relinquish responsibility behind the mask of bureaucracy. Not me, it's the sOloo] - People make decisions.

7)    Government camp—Camp is run as socialist state—by committee..  An alternative to capitalism.

8)    Muley Graves - -He’s the ghost.  Who owns property?  How can one person own a piece of the earth?  The Native American attitude was “How can you own a piece of the land?”  Grandpa could not leave the land—dies for leaving Oklahoma.  Our notion of wealth in terms of collecting—Potlatch Native Americans—show wealth by giving it away.  We are put on this earth not to acquire but to offer.

9)          We're the people- ..... Tom says this and so does Mom. If you believe in evolution—strength of the people is carried on in those who struggle.

10)                        Disintegration of the family---Noah, Old Tom Joad, Grandma and Grandpa, Connie

11)                        Rose of Sharon's transformation. She shares. The less they have, the more willing they are to share.

12)                        Nestle's Corporation and the baby formula.  Okay to sell formula to nursing mothers in African countries and then the babies die from malnutrition because not good water supply for formula—still good business. Article about Argentina eating meat. Ships, the mothball in Hudson River—enough food in mothball fleet to feed world’s population for a year, but no profit from it.

Soviets could grow the food, just could not distribute it.

13)  We cultivate materialism in our culture- is one thing to say, "Buy this can opener because it is a good can opener and opens cans easily." It is enough thing to say, subconsciously, "Buy this can opener and your boyfriend or girlfriend will find you sexy." It no longer becomes a thing but a status symbol …..a reason for living. Insidious--Mercedes commercial where the couple is threatened by the middle class in the form of a van. "Let's go back to help them.”  Paternalistic.

14) We can be a cow and collect things and eat all day and never go beyond the pasture and every once and a while wink at a bull, but we hope that life is more than that. I object to the fact that we sell things and not ideas. Work hard and you can be a good ballplayer--not buy these sneakers or breath mints and people will like you. Or “You need this to be accepted.”

“We are not put on this earth to acquire but to offer.”

Some day when you need another human being, when you need a doctor who cares about your baby or who cares about your sickly parent or as lawyer who has to handle a will or as nurse or some act of kindness, money won't mean a whole lot. Why should they care about me if all I care about is money? Are all nurses, teachers, ministers, rabbis, research scientists, social workers--are they all morons because they don't go for' the buck?"

15)  Maybe there is a conspiracy of people in power who want us to be ignorant. Dictators seize the schools.  Ignorance of the people is the tyrant’s tool for remaining in power.

16) Say one word, “intellectual.”  People in the U.S. have negative connotations with that work. Education in U.S. is for making money. Not improving the person. Trouble is sometimes when we discover the truth, that money is not enough, it is too late. What makes us think that the same energy that goes into making moneyshouldn't be devoted to other skills--like being a good friend, or a good citizen or a good parent. These things take our energies and our investments, too.  As my Dad used to say, there are many ways to be rich, and having money is only one way—and not, in the final analysis, the most important way.  But being rich in other ways demands our energy and effort.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 December 2010 17:29



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