‘The Grapes of Wrath’

Posted on September 12, 2007

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‘The Grapes of Wrath’, one of the landmarks in not only American fiction but also in world literature. It was written by John Steinbeck in 1939. It was one of the post-depression novels of Steinbeck. The economic depression of 1930, had taken heavy toll by the means of mass unemployment and migration, of people from eastern to south-western parts, in large numbers. The author has, in this novel, narrated the impact of that depression on socio-economic life of poor people. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is thus, chiefly a long panorama of suffering and misery of Joad family, who, like thousands of others, migrated to California in the south-west. Steinbeck has used a number of symbolic allusions including the title – ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.
The title has been borrowed from the song ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ written by Julia Ward Howe. The ‘grapes’ here are symbolic – they may be sour as well as sweet. While the sour grapes are unpalatable, the sweet ones are liked by all. In the novel there are both kinds of grapes – sweet and sour. Grampa is always dreaming of going to California and taste sweet grapes in order to regain his vitality. But the grapes remain sour for him as he dies on his way to those green pastures. Infact, the grapes remain sour for the entire Joad family and other migrants, because they didn’t get what they had hoped for.
Another symbolic aspect of the grapes is apparent from the significant comment made in the twenty-ninth chapter of the novel:
“The break would never come so long as fear could turn to wrath.”
This statement symbolically sums up the whole essence of the novel. It implies that until the people rise against their own fears, concerning their exploiters and other cruel forces, the ‘grapes’ will continue to remain sour for them. The only way is to unite against the exploiting forces and demand the rights of the workers.
Hence, in a way the grapes symbolize the fruits of labour. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ will be sweet when wrath, that is, anger is shown against the exploiters. Thus, in this way the title is a very precise and apparent way is related to the very theme of the novel and is also the most suitable.
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Posted in: American writer