The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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Discuss the symbol of the turtle in Chapter 3 of The Grapes of Wrath.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Steinbeck spends a good deal of time describing the turtle crossing the road in chapter three. The turtle symbolizes the Joads and all the other sharecroppers displaced by the Dust Bowl who have to make a dangerous journey to a new place.

Like the sharecroppers, the turtle can only move slowly, dragging his shell, which is similar to the baggage the sharecroppers carry with them as protection against a harsh world. He is no real match for those, like the truck driver, who are bigger and more powerful than he is. The truck driver, who enjoys smashing weaker beings:

flipped the turtle like a tiddly-wink, spun it like a coin, and rolled it off the highway.

The turtle survives this assault and can only hope he will continue to survive such attacks.

Steinbeck shows how hard and painfully the turtle works to cross the road, with many obstacles in his path. This suggests that the sharecroppers's journeys will not be easy either. Finally, Steinbeck personifies the turtle, which means giving it human characteristics. He says twice that it has "humorous" eyes, which again associates it with the sharecroppers.

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