Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Dispossession is a key theme of The Grapes of Wrath. Cast out of their homes and off the land that they have farmed for generations, the migrants leave behind all that is most familiar to them. Like the vast Exodus of the Old Testament, the migrants go in search of a Promised Land, hoping to establish new homes, to bring up their children, and to dwell peaceably. Theirs is a universal longing, as all people sift through their pasts, leaving behind what they must, and journeying toward an unknown and unsure future.
A corresponding theme is that of desolation, for the migrants must leave land on which they had lived for generations. Lonely and alienated, Muley Graves epitomizes this desolation, for he stubbornly refuses to leave the land with the rest of his family. He does this partly because the land literally contains the blood of his father, who died in a barnyard after a bull gored him. Muley’s lament that one’s very identity is tied to the place where one lives captures the heart of the migrants’ plight. Again, the sentiment is universal, for human beings tend to define themselves to some extent by where they live.