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Grapes Of Wrath: Biblical Alusion

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John Steinbeck always makes it a point to know about his subjects

first hand. His stories always have some factual basis behind them.

Otherwise, he does not believe that they will be of any value beyond

artistic impression. Therefore, most of his novels take place in

California, the site of his birth and young life. In preparation for

writing his novels, Steinbeck would often travel with people about whom he

was going to write. The Grapes of Wrath was no exception to his other

works. To prepare for it, he joined migrants in Oklahoma and rode with

them to California. When he got to California, he lived with them, joining them in their quest for work. By publishing these experiences and trials of the migrants he achieved an effect that won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1962. The writing of The Grapes of Wrath coincided with the

Great Depression. This time of hardship and struggle for the rest of

America gave Steinbeck inspiration for his work. Other peoples' stories of

everyday life became issues for Steinbeck. His writings spoke out against those who kept the oppressed in poverty and therefore was branded as a Communist because of his "voice." Although, it did become a bestseller and receive countless awards, his book was banned in many schools and libraries.

However, critics never attacked The Grapes of Wrath on the artistic level

and they still consider it a beautifully mastered work of art. More than

any other American novel, it successfully embodies a contemporary social

problem of national scope in an artistically viable expression.1 In The

Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck utilizes Biblical imagery and allusions to

illustrate the struggle of the Joad family as a direct parallel with that

of the Hebrew people.

Steinbeck bolsters the strength of structure and character

development in the book through Biblical allusions and imagery. Peter

Lisca has noted that the novel reflects the three-part division of the Old

Testament exodus account which includes captivity, journey, and the

promised land.2 The Joads' story is a direct parallel with that of the

Hebrews. Just as the Hebrews were captives of the Pharaoh, the Joads' are

captives of their farm. Both make long and arduous journeys until they

reach their promised land. Israel is the final destination for the Hebrews

and California plays the same role for the Joads. Hunter mentions several

of the parallels in the novel. When the Joads embark on their journey,

there are twelve members which corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel

who are leaving the old order behind. They mount the truck in ark fashion,

two by two, as Noah Joad observes from the ground. This chapter ten scene

is an allusion to the story of Noah's Ark: 3

". . . the rest swarmed up on top of the load, Connie and Rose of Sharon,

Pa and Uncle John, Ruthie and Winfield, Tom and the preacher. Noah stood

on the ground looking up at the great load of them sitting on top of the

truck. 4"

Grampa's character is an allusion to the story of Lot's wife. He is unable

to come to grips with the prospect of a new life, and his recollection of

the past results in his death. Lot's wife died in the same manner. She

turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back into her past. The

parallel is emphasized by the scripture verse, a direct quotation from Lot,

which Tom uses to bury him with.5 Uncle John's character resembles that of

the Biblical character Ananias because he withholds money from the common

fund just as Ananias did. Both characters are similar in their selfish

desires and they each undergo a moment of grace when they admit to their

sins thus becoming closer to God.

Lewis suggests that Tom Joad is an illuminating example of what

Steinbeck considers to be the picaresque saint.7 Tom also serves as a

Moses-type leader of the people as they journey toward the promised land.

Like Moses, he has killed a man and had been away for a time before

rejoining his people and becoming their leader. Like Moses he has a

younger brother(Aaron-Al) who serves as a medium for the leader. Shortly

before reaching the destination, he hears and rejects the evil reports of

those who have visited the land(Hebrew "spies"- Oklahomans going back).8

This parallel ends before the completion of the story just as most others

in the novel do. Many parallels are not worked out completely and as

Hunter notes, the lack of detailed parallel seems to be deliberate, for

Steinbeck is reflecting a broader background of which the exodus story is

only a part.9 Several Biblical allusions come from New Testament stories.

Most prevalent among these allusions is the role of Jim Casy as a Christ

figure.

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