What opinions does Reverend Casy have about sin and using "bad words" in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter Four of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad, who has been paroled from prison and is returning home, runs across Jim Casy and recognizes him as the preacher.  Casy replies that he no longer is a preacher because he now has "a lot of sinful idears--but they seem kinda sensible."  Whenever he would preach, for instance, Casy always went out in the grass with a woman afterwards, then felt like a hypocrite.  His action worried him because the women should have been filled with the Holy Spirit, but Casy now decides that "there ain't no sin, and there ain't no virtue."  There are only the actions of human beings:  "There's just stuff people do.  It's all part of the same thing."

Obviously, Casy is not offended by Tom Joad's use of vulgarity and cursing because he makes no comment to Tom. With no sin, Casy's view is that the Holy Spirit is in everybody:  "'maybe it's all men and women we love."  This concept is much like that of the Over-Soul of Emerson, and is in harmony with the socialistic ideals of Steinbeck.  The holiness of fellowship is certainly a motif that of The Grapes of Wrath.

 

jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Jim Casy was formerly a reverend, the type he describes as a "Burning Busher," or an evangelical preacher. He gave up preaching when he found that he couldn't follow what he was preaching. After his sermons, he would usually take a woman to bed, and he was filled with guilt as a result. He says, "Then I'd feel bad, an' I'd pray an' pray, but it didn't do no good." After thinking about it, he realized, "Maybe it ain't a sin. Maybe it's just the way folks is. Maybe we been whippin' the hell out of ourselves for nothin'." He feels that what religion thinks of as sin isn't really sin; instead, it's just the way people naturally are. He thinks, "There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do." He feels that the word "sin" has been attached to what people normally do and that the world can't be divided into sin and virtue.

Similarly, Casy doesn't believe that there are bad words. Instead, he thinks "They're jus' words folks use, an' they don't mean nothing bad with 'em." The intent of the words is more important than the words themselves. Casy finds that what motivates people can be inherently good, even if they use swear words. In coming up with this philosophy, Casy sheds his belief in traditional religion and its proscription of swearing.

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