How effectively did Steinbeck balance hope and despair in TheĀ Grapes of Wrath?

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Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Despair seems to be the foundation on which the Joad family finds their lives built. After generations on the landing, living and dying on it, they are pushed off as if it never belonged to them because now it belongs to the banks. The banks are presented as inhuman monsters; there is no fighting them or talking with them. The Joads have no one to appeal to. Their only hope is to be found in moving to California and starting a new life there. They have based their hope on an advertisement for workers. It is not mentioned how long they have had this piece of paper, but they seem to think the work is waiting for them until they get there. At least, that is their hope.

And so they travel on a quest to save their family. Loss is experienced almost daily, but still the land of the setting sun draws them in. When they arrive there, they encounter conflict that they did not expect. It seems that what they thought was true is not, but still they go on. They travel from place to place, always hoping that somewhere there will be work, if even for one day, they go on. No mention is ever made of the future, of what will happen after hard times end. If they ever do. Their hope does not seem to reach that far.

Read the study guide:
The Grapes of Wrath

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