The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath enhances authenticity with the use of emotional and robust imagery. The raw emotion brought forth by Steinbeck was stimulated and strengthened by the time, the Great Depression. The Great Depression was an overpowering thought in the minds of American consumers, and the population as a whole was depressed. The depression of the American people was the sustenance that Steinbeck fed off to conceive a moving story. The plot of this story alone would not have had the emotion it needed to convey its point, and this is why the strong symbolism is required. Three of the most intense examples of imagery in The Grapes of Wrath were the land, the machines, and the animals.
The land in the Grapes of Wrath showed the turmoil in society. In the opening chapters, Steinbeck used strong and harsh adjectives to describe the scene. The metaphors that accompany these adjectives heighten the emotion further. "The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet"(Steinbeck 1). This darkening of the leaves shows the extent of the struggle man is facing against the elements and the word "bayonet" shows the struggle from man to man. The conflict between man and nature is present throughout the whole novel; the dustbowl is the factor that drives them out of Oklahoma, and the rain and flood are what kills Rose of Sharon's baby. Through these events, the Joads and all the Okies have to grow a thick skin that is not able to be penetrated by the horrible weather and natural disasters. The numbness to the weather allows the Okies to carry on. The struggle between man and man that is foreshadowed by the word "bayonet" shows the potential of a physical fight. Steinbeck hints at physical violence from the beginning of the book with Tom's initial jail sentence, and the last act of violence came from Tom again when he killed the man who killed Casey. The brutality in the book shows that every man and every family needs to push their limits and prepare to fight to survive.
The use of machine imagery strives to prove the disconnect between the farmland and the farmers. "Behind the harrows, the long seeders-twelve curved iron penes erected in the foundry, orgasms set by gears, raping methodically, raping without passion. The driver sat in his iron seat and he was proud of the straight lines he did not will, proud of the tractor he did not own or love, proud of the power he could not control"(Steinbeck 36). Steinbeck portrays the machines to be independent monsters that do not feel remorse and depicts the people that operate them to be just as wicked. The tractor drivers are proud of their work, which is not done by them; the machines do it. The land and men are disconnected because the men do not physically work the field and because the tractor acts as a physical barrier between them. This disconnect is dangerous because it displaces the men that should be working the ground, and replaces them with mindless robots that do not understand the struggle that is cohesive to working the land. The machines are also described to be raping the land. This adjective is particularly powerful because it articulates the lack of consent given by the land. The land does not like to be worked by these evil machines, and instead, want to be worked by the hands of farmers.
The use of animal imagery was also present in The Grapes of Wrath, most notably in the case of the turtle. Steinbeck introduces the turtle in chapter three, where it immediately becomes a symbol for the plight of the Okies. In that chapter, the turtle wanted to cross a road, but on that road was a string of obstacles, ranging from ants to trucks. Similarly to the turtle, the Okies faced numerous challenges. The citizens of California were not welcoming, the government persecuted them, and big corporations paid them less money than they needed to live. Contrary to that, on the turtle's journey, a driver swerved to avoid the turtle. The Okies had people that looked out for them too. Everyone was in the same boat and understood each other deeply. The most extreme example of that was the stillborn baby. During Rose of Sharon's labor, many Okies worked together intensely to make her comfortable and safe during the flood. When the efforts fell through, and the baby was stillborn, the Okies were left stranded with no hope or reward for their actions. They were angry, but the outcome of the scenario was a known possibility, and the Okies took the risk regardless. The circle of kindness continued when Rose of Sharon breastfed the starving man in the concluding scene of the story. Similarly to the endurance and grit of the turtle, the Okies kept moving.
John Steinbeck fills The Grapes of Wrath with detailed imagery, most notably with the land, machines, and turtle. The imagery relating to the land showed conflicts between man and nature, and man and man. The machine imagery proved the disconnect between the farmers and their fields. The journey of the turtle registered parallels between the Okies and the turtle. Steinbeck's symbolism slipped precise understanding of the Okies' emotions into the minds of the readers in a way that a story about humans could not.
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