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What is the the symbolism in chapter 1 of The Grapes of Wrath?

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xfatalglowsx | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 16, 2011 at 2:50 AM via web

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What is the the symbolism in chapter 1 of The Grapes of Wrath?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 16, 2011 at 3:05 AM (Answer #1)

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There are many symbols in the first chapter of Steinbeck's work that will come back in different forms throughout the novel.  One of the most powerful symbols is the covering of the sky, blocking out the sun and the light.  Steinbeck uses this to reflect both the natural conditions in America at the time as well as the state of human connection to others.  Both are shrouded in darkness and a moment where individuals cannot see, both literally and figuratively, their connection to others, making social solidarity near impossible to achieve.  This feed the idea of the lack of agriculture, something that requires nurturing as well as balance of natural conditions in order to suvive and flourish.  Human societies are much the same way in the Great Depression and in the Dust Bowl, the subject of Steinbeck's book.  I think that one of the last symbols in the first chapter is the idea that the men do not capitulate to the natural conditions in front of them.  The wives see the anger and the emotion in their husbands.  They recognize this and Steinbeck uses this as a way to bring about the idea that while there is a condition of harshness and alienation, this does not have to be the norm.  This image helps to convey Steinbeck's belief that there can be a transformative notion of reality whereby individuals can help to change reality from what is into what should be.  It is here where such a symbolic moment can come to represent so much more in the work in that the transformative power of humans will become a central theme developed throughout the book.

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