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The Grapes of Wrath Allusion-Oversoul

The Philosophical Joads

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The Philosophical Joads
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The Philosophical Joads

  • "Ever know a guy that said big words like that?" asks the truck driver. "Preacher," replies Tom Joad ."Well, it make you mad to hear a guy use big words. Course with a preacher it's all right because nobody would fool around with a preacher anyway" (pg 15). But soon afterward Tom meets Jim Casy and finds him changed.  Casy has ceased to be an orthodox minister and no longer uses big words. But although he is no longer a minister, Jim Casy continues to preach. Ralph Waldo Emerson had given up the ministry because of his unorthodoxy. But Emerson had kept on using big words. Now Casy translates them: "Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a apart of" (pg 32-33).  And so the Emersonian oversoul comes to earth in Oklahoma.
  •     Unorthodox Jim Casy went into the Oklahoma wilderness to save his soul. And in the wilderness he experienced the religious feeling of identity with nature. "There was hills, an' there was me, an' we wasn't separate no more. We was one thing. An' that one thing was holy."  Like Emerson, Casy came to the conviction that holiness, or goodness, results from this feeling of unity. "I got to thinkin' how we was holy when we was one thing, an mankin' was holy when it was one thing."
  •    But the corollary of this mystical philosophy is that any man's self-seeking destroys the unity of "holiness" of nature. "An' it [this one thing] on'y got unholy when one mis'able little fella got the bit in his teeth, an' run off his own way....Fella like that bust the holiness." Or, as Emerson phrased it, while discussing Nature: "The world lacks unity because man is disunited with himself....Love is demand." So Jim Casy preaches the religion of love, especially with the family.
  •     The lust of possession isolates a man from his fellows and destroys the unity of nature and the love of man.  As Steinbeck writes: "The quality of owning freezes you forever into 'I', and cuts you off forever from the 'we'." To a preacher of the oversoul, possessive egotism may become the unpardonable sin.
  •     In addition, when men resist unjust and selfish authority, they themselves become "whole" in spirit.
  •      Faith: faith in the instincts of the common man, faith in ultimate social progress, and faith in the direction in which democracy is moving. So Ma Joad counsels the discouraged Tom: "Why, Tom, we're the people that live. They ain't gonna wipe us out. Why, we're the people-we go on." And so Steinbeck himself affirms a final faith in progress: "When theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies...grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward...Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back." This is the motive force of our American life and finds reaffirmation in this novel. 
  •     Upon the foundation of this old American idealism Steinbeck has built. But the Emersonian oversoul had seemed vague and very ineffective-only the individual had been real, and he had been concerned more with his private soul than with other people. The Grapes of Wrath develops the individual as a member of a social group-the old "I" becomes "we." And it transforms the passive individual into the active participant-the idealist becomes pragmatist.
  •     Steinbeck now emphasizes the group above the individual and from an impersonal point of view. Where formerly American and Protestant thought has been separatist, Steinbeck now faces the problem of spcial integration.
  •     "This is the beginning," he writes, "from 'I' to 'we.' " This is the beginning, that is, of reconstruction. When the old society has been split and the Protestant individuals wander aimlessly about, some new nucleus must be found, or chaos will follow. "In the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node."
  •     In this new group, the individual may become greater than himself. Some men, of course, will remain mere individuals, but in every group there must be leaders, or "representative men." After Jim Casy's death, Tom is chosen to lead. Ma explains: "They's some folks that's just theirself, an' nothin' more. There's Al [for instance] he's jus' a young fella after a girl. You wasn't never like that, Tom." Tom has been an individualist, but through the influence of Casy and his group idea, Tom has become more than himself. Tom becomes "a leader of the people."
  •         Jim Casy and Tom Joad have become more responsible and more purposeful than Pa Joad and Uncle John ever were: they love people so much that they are ready to die for them.  Formerly the only unit of human love was the family, and the family remains the fundamental unit."The family became a unit. Pa squatted down on the ground, and Uncle John beside him. Pa was the head of the family now. Ma stood behind him. Noah and Tom and Al squatted, and the preacher sat down, and then reclined on his elbow. Connie and Rose of Sharon walked at a distance. Now Ruthie and Winfield, clattering up with a bucket of water held between them, felt the change" (pg 189).  The tradegy of The Grapes of Wrath consists in the breakup of the family. But the new moral of this novel is that the love of all people-if it be unselfish-may even supersede the love of family. So Casy dies for the people, and Tom is ready to, and Rose of Sharon symbolically transmutes her maternal love to a love of all people."Rose of Sharon went down on her knees and crawled deep into the brush. The berry vines cut her face and pulled her hair, but she didn't mind. Only when she felt the bushes touching her all over did she stop. She stretched out on her back. And she felt the weight of the baby inside her" (pg 580) Here is a new realization of "the word democratic, the word en masse."
  •     The fundamental idea of The Grapes of Wrath is that of America transcendentalism: "Maybe all men got one big soul every'body's a part of." From this idea it follows that every individual will trust those instincts which he shares with all men, even when these conflicts with the teachings of orthodox religion and of existing society. But his self-reliance will not merely seek individual freedom, as did Emerson. It will rather seek social freedom or mass democracy. If this mass democracy leads to the abandoment of taboos and to the modification of some traditional ideas of morality, that is inevitable. But whatever happens, the American will act to realize his ideals. He will seek to make himself whole-to join himself to other men by means of purposeful actions for some goal beyond himself.

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