How are the Joads and the turtle alike in The Grapes of Wrath?  

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Joad family and the turtle both refuse to stop as they struggle to achieve a goal. The turtle's qualities are discussed at length, both in the non-narrative chapter that describes it and in the following narrative chapters when Tom finds and picks one up. 

  • The turtle always seems to be going somewhere and is unwilling to cease in its determination to get there, one way or another. 
  • The turtle has both a hard shell and a soft under-belly and, when threatened, retreats inward to find safety. 

These ideas are also true, at least metaphorically, of the Joad family. The family acts as its own protection and has a hard-shell of determination as well as a vulnerable side.  

The patient turtle proceeds along a difficult journey over the dust fields of Oklahoma, often meeting obstacles, but always able to survive. Like the Joads, the turtle is moving southwest, away from the drought. When a trucker swerves to hit the turtle, the creature survives, just as the Joads survive the displacement from their land. Later, Tom finds a turtle and Casy comments: “Nobody can’t keep a turtle though. They work at it and work at it, and at last one day they get out and away they go—off somewheres.” The turtle is hit by a truck, carried off by Tom, attacked by a cat and a red ant, yet, like the Joads and “the people,” he is indomitable with a fierce will to survive. He drags himself through the dust and unknowingly plants a seed for the future.

Read the study guide:
The Grapes of Wrath

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