Power of Religion in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath Essay

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The Power of Religion in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath


John Steinbeck's epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, chronicles the struggles of the Joads as they join the thousands of fellow "Okies" in a mass migration westward. The Joads reluctantly leave behind their Oklahoma farm in search of work and food in California. While Steinbeck writes profoundly and emotionally about the political problems of the Great Depression, his characters also show evidence of a deep concern with spirituality. When they feel hopeless and are uncertain about their immediate future, their concentration on religion dwindles. On the other hand, when they leave their home, the Joads regain spiritual faith; they have something to live for: California. Once
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When he joins the Joads on their journey, he does have a "promised land" of sorts where he is leading them. He is not immediately comfortable with the expectations the Joads place on him, however. When prodded by Granma to say grace at breakfast before leaving home, Casy initially refuses, admitting that he does not know for what or to whom he should pray. But he explains how he had a religious awakening: "There was the hills, an' there was me, an' we wasn't separate no more. We was one thing. An' that one thing was holy...I'm glad of the holiness of breakfast. I'm glad there's love here" (81). The emphasis on the humanitarian, realistic aspect of religion (as opposed to the treatment of God) serves to lead his new family in their trek, whereas supernatural faith had already been shattered by the loss of the land. Later, as the Joads pass through western Oklahoma, Grampa suffers a stroke. Casy's natural reaction is treat his body and determine what, if anything, can be done to save his life. Granma, on the other hand, yells at him to stop what he is doing and start praying (137).

The Joads arrive in California and never find the paradise they had convinced themselves existed there. With their only hope for salvation dashed, they unwillingly discover the politics of labor. After meeting the mayor of Hooverville, where they decide to camp, Tom learns from…