Dynamic Characters and Survival in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

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Dynamic Characters and Survival in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

In the American epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, there are pivotal and dynamic changes that occur in the various significant characters of Jim Casy, Ma Joad, and Tom Joad. Steinbeck specifically uses these characters to show their common realizations about all of humanity, in order to demonstrate his underlying meaning about the importance of people coming together, helping each other out, and surviving. Ma Joad illustrates this idea clearly when she speaks to Tom mid-way through the novel: “Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why we’re the people--we go on.” (350)

Early in the novel we are introduced to a
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As the novel begins, Tom has a completely independent outlook on life; concerned only with returning home from prison to indulge his own comforts and wants. It is only later after he has endured the hardships of the journey, in Jim Casy’s death, and his own exile, that he has time to think and realizes that it is united we stand, and divided we fall. He thus sacrifices his personal concerns and safety and leaves the family to go out into the larger community and help his people. He will go out and work to complete what Jim Casy had started. Whereas Jim Casy was too much of an idealist, Tom will try and put his plan into action: “Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.” (537)

And lastly, the change from a smaller concern for just the family to moving into a larger world-view and concern for all of humanity is illustrated in the character of Ma Joad. Ma comes to realize as she feels at first she is losing family members through the ordeals of the trip, that she is in fact gaining a much wider community of people. She states this at the end of the novel quite clearly when she says: “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.” (569) Ma Joad’s selfless actions throughout the novel are the direct portrayal of Jim Casy’s ideals. Her every action is in