The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What does The Grapes of Wrath say about the human need to reconcile the uncertainties of the past with a new or present situation? What does this suggest to you about the ways in which individuals...

What does The Grapes of Wrath say about the human need to reconcile the uncertainties of the past with a new or present situation? What does this suggest to you about the ways in which individuals deal with the uncertainties of the past?

Expert Answers info

Michael Foster eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write579 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and History

Different characters deal with the uncertainties of the past in different ways, depending on what their hopes of the future are. Jim Casy has left his past as a preacher, seeking some other meaning to his life. He decides that the only “good” in the world (as well as the only “evil”) is just what people do. In this, he finds some certainty, since he gives up judging people’s deeds in the light of traditional morality. His rejection of organized religion (and perhaps of God) leads to his placing himself in the service of mankind, specifically in the workers’ right to organize to fight for better conditions. In this, he sacrifices his lifen and serves as a Christ-figure.

Tom’s past is one of uncertainty, yet so is his future, since he is on parole and is not allowed to leave the state. His hope for a better life is to be found in California, yet even there his past is always a threat. He leaves the family for fear of bringing his past down on all of them.

For Ma Joad, her past is having her home torn out from under her. She has implicit faith that the family can make a new start in California, yet this comes to be far short of what she imagines, when the family is broken up.

The underlying theme seems to be that, no matter how far you go, the uncertainties of the past will always be a part of your future. Yet you must move on, especially if the past is unlivable.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial