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The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

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What are some similes in The Grapes of Wrath?

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Throughout his novel, John Steinbeck makes use of various methods of narration.  One of these is with the intercalary chapters which often inform of the conditions in the historical context of the novel. At times, however, they are metaphoric in nature, comparing isolated situations to the human condition.  Chapter Three is such a chapter;in it, Steinbeck writes of a turtle who persistently attempts to cross the road. Although he is repulsed in his efforts to traverse this road by willpower, he persists, and is nearly run over. Nevertheless, the turtle, having been spun around and landed upon its back, manages to turn over and finish his crossing of the highway. Of course, the turtle is symbolic of the Joad family that will persevere despite the impediments to their journey. Moreover, in the subsequent Chapter Four, Steinbeck uses the simile of the turtle to the former preacher Jim Casy, who likens himself to the turtle. The turtle struggles along with a head of wild oats whose stem is wrapped around its legs as it crosses a highway and is struck by a truck, spinning on the pavement.  At last, it is able to cross, but loses the oats, dragging dirt over them as though he intends to plant them.  In Chapter Four, Tom Joad, having been released from prison, walks along the same dusty road and picks up the turtle, puts it in his pocket and walks through the dust with his "yellow shoes" that are suggestive of the turtle's "yellow toes." Then, after Tom meets Jim Casy, who is wandering, Casy compares himself to the turtle that Tom says he picked up in order to give it to his kid brother:

"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. It's like me. [simile] I wouldn't take the good ol' gospel that was just layin' there to my hand.  I got to be pickin' at it an' workin' at it until I got it all tore down."

In a stated comparison, Jim Casy draws parallels betweeen himself and the turtle.  With Tom Joad, the comparison is more subtle and unstated. Therefore, it is a metaphor.

Here are some other similes:

  • In a negative simile [Shakespeare used a negative simile in a sonnet that begins "My mistress' eyes are nothin like the sun], in the intercalary Chapter Five, the owners of the land reluctantly inform the farmers that they must move off the land because tenant farming is no longer profitable. When the farmers explain that they are tied to the land; it is their home and lives, the owners reply,

...It's not us, it's the bank. It's the monster. A bank isn't like a man.

  • In Chapter Twenty, conditions worsen for the Joads. Handbills are printed, exaggerating the number of jobs available.  When too multitudes arrive, many must be turned away.  This chapter is replete with similes:

Tom took off his cloth cap...the visor pointed as a bird's beak

Casy says he listtens to the people:  "Listen all the time...I hear 'em an' feel 'em; an' they're beating their wings like a bird in an attic.

  • Much of the colloquial dialogue contains simile; for example, Tom tells Casy that he has information that something will happern tomorrow,

"Somepin's gonna come up.  I was talkin' to a kid up the road. An' he's bein' just as sneaky an' wise as a dog coyote, but he's too wise."

  • Al describes Tom,

"Just as nice as pie till he's roused, an' then--lok out."

  • A storyteller in Chapter Twenty-Three uses simile,

"Them Injuns was cute--slick as snakes, an' quiet when they wanted.






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