Dignity and Transformation in the Face of Tragedy in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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It is not very often, when you read a book that you see hopeful and stirring themes placed against a backdrop of terror and tragedy. The “Grapes of Wrath”, written by John Steinbeck in 1939, is a gritty and realistic picture of life for migrant families in California during the Great Depression in the face of a drought, all struggling to build lives for themselves and maintain their dignity amongst the rampant capitalist self-interest of landowners. “The Grapes of Wrath” is both a novel both a naturalistic epic and a social commentary. Steinbeck tackles major themes such as suffering inflicted from man unto man and the snowballing effects of both selflessness and selfishness, all seen through the eyes of an altruistic, omniscient narrator…show more content…
The climax of the struggle occurs as Jim is murdered by a police officer, who Tom then kills. In the absence of the group’s spiritual leader, Tom steps up and joins together a large group of migrants to fight for better conditions, finding his purpose as a man of the people and leaving the Joad family on his own. The book concludes when Tom’s sister, Rose of Sharon, gives birth to a stillborn baby, and uses her milk to save a starving man, representing the community of migrants and humans in the face of oppression. Jim Casey, the spiritual and moral center of the novel, is a character worth analyzing more in depth. When Casey joins Tom on his journey, he is a bit of an enigma. An ex-preacher, he was cynical to the theatrical trappings of all things church-related, however his spirituality is unshaken. In a Christ-like acceptance of the flaws of others (a figure with whom he shares initials), he sees holiness not within following a certain set of rules, but in being compassionate and fully embracing the human experience. In this, I believe Steinbeck used this character as a voice for the central theme of the book. He unflinchingly accepted all tragedy thrown the way of his surrogate family with kind words and a grace that was almost other-worldly. His violent death further solidifies his position as a martyr and a change-maker,

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