“The Grapes of Wrath” Discussion notes
Chapters 1-5 • Two key characters we’ve met so far: Tom and Casy. We’ll look at Tom more closely later. • It should strike you that Casy’s initials are J.C. • He is certainly a Christ-like figure in this book. • It’s not just that he is a former preacher who “went into the hills thinkin,” much as Jesus Christ went into the wilderness.
Chapters 1-5 • Also consider: • Casy rejects the notion of sin: “There ain’t no sin, and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.” • His new direction defines the religious impulse as human love: “What’s this call, this sperit?...It’s love.” • This direction also identifies the Holy Spirit as the human spirit in all mankind: “Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.”
Chapters 1-5 • Casy joins the migration not to escape or preach but to learn from the common human experience. • What he ultimately learns is that man’s spiritual brotherhood must express itself in social unity. • It’s a moot point to argue whether the novel promotes specific Christian values because that depends entirely on your definition of what is essentially Christian. • Suffice it to say that the novel fuels its social message with religious fervor and sanction.
Literary element refresher • Diction involves a writer’s selection of language. Diction may be described as formal or informal, abstract or concrete, figurative or literal. • Dialect is variation of a given language spoken in a particular place or by a particular group of people. A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. If we’re only talking about pronunciation, we usually use the term “accent.” • Dialect is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class.
Grapes dialect • The story is rich in dialect: language is unique to its region due to vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. • Words and phrases from chapters 1-5 of Wrath: • “drownded,” “idears,” “Sperit,” “figgered” “piana” “et” • “You give her a goin’-over” • “Touched” (crazy)
The Turtle’s Exodus • The indomitable life force that drives the turtle, the toughness that allows it to survive predators, the efficiency of nature that uses the turtle to unwittingly carry seeds and bury them – all traits characteristic of the Joads. • The Joads, too, will carry their house (the truck) with them, survive natural catastrophe, and see both kindness and intimidation. • They, too, pick up life in one place and carry it to another. • Chapter 4: Tom picks up the turtle as a present for his younger siblings, talks about turtles with Casy, and eventually releases it. The turtle plods southwest – just as the Joads will.
Chapters 6-9 • Chapter 7 is a good example of one of the roles of the inter-chapters. It adds new voices – in this case that of a car salesman who speaks with the quick pace and phony tone of a hustler taking advantage of the desperate farmers.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 Steinbeck goes to a lot of trouble to describe each character well before any real action takes place. Thus, we can assume that it is important to know much detail about each of the Joads (and a few others). This will help us understand how they function as a family unit.
Discussion: chapters 6-9 • Jim Casy: Review • Casy rejects the notion of sin: “There ain’t no sin, and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.” • “Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.” • Casy is a thinker in the first half of the novel; a man of action in the second half.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Tom Joad • Main protagonist of the novel; strong, responsible, doesn’t like being pushed around. • On probation from state prison; limits his actions. • Viewpoint transforms from concern for his immediate family to concern for the whole migrant society.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Muley: • Refuses to leave the land; lives like an animal; has been hunted for more than two months; lives in caves and fields; hunts his own food. • hates the government • Many disparage Muley for not heading west with his family: There is something at work there that is much stronger than we can imagine: His very being is tied to the land. • This is a huge theme in the book and in Steinbeck’s writing in general.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Ma Joad • Backbone of the family. • “Heavy, but not fat; thick with child-bearing and work” ;“full face was not soft, but controlled, kindly.” • The “citadel of the family.” • Pa and the family “could not know fear or hurt unless (Ma) acknowledges it…if she ever deeply wavers or despairs the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.” • Considered the healer of the family; the arbiter of disputes. • She fights to keep the family together.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Pa Joad • Official head of the family. Hard-working tenant farmer who is forced out by elements beyond his control. • Only touches Tom on the shoulder, and very timidly, after an extended talk with him. Doesn’t openly show emotions. • Doesn’t trust anyone who writes for no reason. • Looks dirty and worn; worn out clothes, salt-and-pepper beard.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Uncle John: • “Crazy kind of son-of-bitch – somepin like Muley, on’y worse in some ways.” • Often seen drunk and visiting whore houses. • Feels guilty about his wife’s death; blames himself for his family’s bad luck. • Older than Pa • Never goes to church; wants to be off alone; doesn’t want to get close to anyone.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Granma and Granpa • Sleep in the barn so that they aren’t bothered and don’t bother. • Fighting keeps their relationship healthy: They love it (need it) and are devoted to each other. • Granpa is “cantankerous, complaining, mischievous.” • Attached to the land; too old to adapt to a new place; pretends to want to go to California but doesn’t mean it. • Granma is “as mean as her husband”; shot Granpa once during one of their arguments, which made him love her even more. • Speaks in tongues when the spirit hits her.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Al Joad • 16 years old; interested in girls and “billygoatin’” aroun” at night. • Handsome, seen unconsciously as a younger version of Tom (although less responsible at this young age). • Disappointed that Tom got paroled rather than escaped from prison. • Expert with automobiles; caretaker of the truck.
Discussion: Chapters 6-9 • Noah • First-born son of the Joads; Pa pulled him out of Ma with his hands because he couldn’t deal with Ma’s pain and screaming. • He is not stupid; just strange and a little slow. Loves family but feels like an outsider. • Rose of Sharon • 17 or 18; pregnant. • Pre-motherhood has changed her from an immature girl to a young woman gaining wisdom. This change isn’t completed until almost the end of the novel. • Connie • Rose of Sharon’s 19-year-old husband
Chapters 6-9: discussion notes • Ruthie and Winfield • Youngest Joad children; Ruthie, 12, is on verge of adolescence; Winfield is a rough-and-tumble, typical boy, 10.
Discussion notes: chapters 10-11 Transitions and transformations • When the Joads change from farm people to road people, they have to cast off not only many of their belongings but their habits and customs as well: • Casy salts the pork even though it’s “women’s work,” according to Ma. “It’s all work,” Casy replies. • The leadership of the Joads must pass to Ma before the family can assume its new identity. • Grandpa refuses to go: To be torn away from his land is too shattering for him.
Discussion notes: chapters 10-11 The Joad family • Each person is a separate individual with distinct qualities. Yet, the family often acts as if it were one person. It makes decisions as a group, travels as a single unit, and reacts uniformly to events.
Discussion notes: chapters 10-11 Experience changes the family’s personality: • Before the Joads leave home, Grandpa and Granma rule the roost, at least in name. When the family breaks ties to the land and joins the migrant exodus, the old generation gives way to the new. • Pa’s authority is fleeting: Ma gradually takes over, and her powerful personality and steady hand are what holds the family together at this point. • When Tom plans to remain with another family’s disabled car until it is fixed, Ma vows to smash him with a jack handle if he insists the family go on without him. She is then seen as the undisputed leader of the Joads.
Discussion notes: chapters 10-11 • Yet, Ma is already (subconsciously) beginning to subscribe to a new notion of family. “I” is becoming “We.” When isolated families fuse with one another, a larger family, a Human Family, develops. • This is also seen when Muley knows he must share his rabbit with Tom and Casy. They are hungry: He has food. He must share.
Test 1: Preview Covers chapters 1-11 68 total points: 13 multiple choice questions; 7 true or false; three short answer questions (20 points); 6 identification of speakers and the passages’ meanings (18); one essay (10 points) that includes a video component. Know the characters and their general traits/characteristics. Specifically review chapters 1,5,and 9: know the overall idea or purpose of those chapters Review the viewing guide for what we have covered of Steinbeck’s “Biography” so far.