How does Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck have the kind of ending Weldon describes in the quote below?
-Identify the "spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation" evident in the ending & explain its significance in the work as a whole?
The British novelist Fay Weldon offers this observation about happy endings: "The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By a happy ending, I do notmean mere fortunate events—a marriage or a last-minute rescue from death—but somekind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death."
Ah, AP Lit! This is a free-response AP Literature prompt, circa 1996.
The Grapes of Wrath--perhaps the most unusual ending of any great novel. First, there's a series of endings in the novel. There's Tom's ending, Rose of Sharon's ending, and--even broader--the family's ending.
Regarding Tom's ending: Tom Joad decides to become a kind of Christ-figure by taking up the mantle of Jim Casey (initials "J.C." for "Jesus Christ"). Instead of physically sacrificing himself for the cause, the way Christ and Jim Casey did, Tom instead decides to become a spiritual hero (like the Holy Spirit):
I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too.
Tom's spiritual reassessment is to be a kind of secular working-class hero--in spirit form. Before this, Tom was reluctant to get involved in labor disputes, but after Casey's death and his family's exodus, Tom has learned to put others and a higher cause before his own needs.
Regarding the Rose-a-Sharon ending, Rose likewise learns to be a mother of the down-trodden. After her baby is born stillborn, she uses her milk to feed the starving old man. As reprehensible and, well, creepy, this might have been to the earlier, married Rose, the newly spiritual Rose feeds him with her milk, a symbolic baptism of unconditional love.
Regarding the family, Ma's spiritual journey is based on survival. In her "We're the people" monologue, she echoes the Biblical plight of the Israelites as they fled from Egypt:
Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people.
More, Ma's spiritual duty is based on humility and suffering; she must suffer all the hardships with a kind of spiritual adaptability, much like a Darwinian animal. This spiritual "survival of the fittest" is her key to keeping the family together.