How does Steinbeck specifically address and accomplish the social purpose of The Grapes of Wrath?
“The Grapes of Wrath is not a story told for its own sake, or to give pleasure to its hearers; it is a book written with a specific social purpose, and every aspect of the book is wholly devoted to that purpose” (source unknown). What is the social purpose? How does Steinbeck specifically address and accomplish this purpose?
Read as a parable, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath exemplifies the evils of capitalism which are exemplified in some of the intercalary chapters that illustrate the deviousness of the used-car salesmen and the uncaring, huge machinery that levels the sharecroppers farm. Stressing the importance of individuals coming together as a collective soul not unlike the Emersonian "Oversoul" which unifies all men, Steinbeck emphasizes the importance of men becoming unified members of all mankind. The shift in the Joad family from a patriarchal one to that of a matriarchal one that recognizes the true value of family and the meaning to life exemplifies this concept of community, as well. Along with this shift to having more of a heart for others, Tom Joad, influenced by the thinking of Jim Casy, a Christ-like figure who contends that he "loves people so much that [he]'s fit to bust," takes up the fight begun by Casy who is murdered. After Casy's death, Tom works with the union in trying to make conditions better for the itinerant worker.
That people working together can save one another is a recurring theme throughout Steinbeck's parable. In Chapter 12, for instance, Steinbeck writes in parable form:
There was a family of twelve and they were forced off the land. They had no car. They build a trailer out of junk and loaded it with their possessions. They pulled it to the side of 66 and waited. And pretty soon a sedan picked them up. Five of them rode in the sedan and seven on the trailer, and a dog on the trailer. They got to California in two jumps. The man who pulled them fed them. And that's true. But how can such courage be, and such faith in their onw species? Very few things would teach such faith.
In the final chapter in which the torrential rains drive the Joads out of their boxcar to seek shelter in a barn, they find a boy and his starving father who cannot hold down bread; he needs soup or milk. After Rose o'Sharon has had a stillborn baby, she has milk in her breasts. Ma and she exchange looks, and Sharon gives the starving man literally "the milk of human kindness," saving the man's life. In the words of Tom who has just departed from his mother,
"Well, maybe like Casy says, a fell ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big one--an' then--"
The moving from the "I" to the larger self in which there is strength is certainly one social pupose of the parable of The Grapes of Wrath.