- "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.