Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1666
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 4
The preacher nodded his head slowly. “Every kid got a turtle some time or other. 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 somewhere. It’s like me. I wouldn’ 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. Here I got the sperit sometimes an’ nothin’ to preach about. I got the call to lead the people, an’ no place to lead ‘em.”
“Lead ‘em around and around,” said Joad. “Sling ‘em in the irrigation ditch. Tell ‘em they’ll burn in hell if they don’t think like you. What the hell you want to lead ‘em someplace for? Jus’ lead ‘em.” The straight trunk shade had stretched out along the ground. Joad moved gratefully into it and squatted on his hams and made a new smooth place on which to draw his thoughts with a stick.
While going home after serving time in prison, Tom Joad encounters Casy, the preacher that had ministered to the community during Tom’s youth. The two keep each other company and catch up on the passage of time. Tom shares his liquor with Casy, and the men talk about Casy’s preaching days. Although Casy has decided to give up preaching, that has not stopped him from sermonizing. His mind still works out the great truths of the universe, but he has no way to utilize what he has learned. He feels he still has some kind of spiritual call, but he has no place to lead his followers since he has given up his commitment to organized religion in the form of traditional Christianity. Tom, however, encourages him to just lead the people, which is what they really want after all. They want to be pointed in the direction of hope.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 20
Ma asked timidly, “Where we goin’, Tom?”
“Goin’ south,” he said. “We couldn’ let them bastards push us aroun’. We couldn’. Try to get aroun’ the town ‘thout goin’ through it.”
“Yeah, but where we goin’?” Pa spoke for the first time. “That what I want ta know.”
“Gonna look for that gov’ment camp,” Tom said. “A fella said they don’ let no deputies in there. Ma—I got to get away from ‘em. I’m scairt I’ll kill one.”
“Easy, Tom.” Ma soothed him. “Easy, Tommy. You done good once. You can do it again.”
“Yeah, an’ after a while I won’t have no decency lef’.”
“Easy,” she said. “You got to have patience. Why, Tom—us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone. Why, Tom, we’re the people that live. They ain’t gonna wipe us out. Why, we’re the people—we go on.”
“We take a beatin’ all the time.”
“I know.” Ma chuckled. “May that makes us tough. Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good, an’ they die out. But, Tom, we keep a-comin’. Don’ you fret none, Tom. A different time’s comin’."
The Joad family has arrived in California, but Granma dies before she can see the beauty, and they are forced to leave her to be buried in a pauper’s grave. Finally finding a camp for migrants, the Joads take possession of one of the tents and settle in. However, it is clear that the migrants are not welcomed by the local people, and Tom fears for his safety if confronted by a deputy. His anger is such against authority that he is afraid that he will kill a policeman. Ma pleads with him to take it easy. She points out that he had been a good man once, and he can be again. She urges him to have patience, because those in authority cannot wipe them out. She says that they are “the people,” and they will survive no matter what. The constant battle only serves to strengthen them. The rich will die off, too weak to stand the struggle. But the poor are “the people,” and they will survive.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 30
Suddenly the boy cried, “He’s dyin’, I tell you! He’s starvin’ to death, I tell you.”
“Hush,” said Ma. She looked at Pa and Uncle John standing helplessly gazing at the sick man. She looked at Rose of Sharon huddled in the comfort. Ma’s eyes passed Rose of Sharon’s eyes and then came back to them. And the two women looked deep into each other. The girl’s breath came short and gasping.
She said, “Yes.”
Ma smiled. “I knowed you would. I knowed!” She looked down at her hands, tight-locked in her lap.
Rose of Sharon whispered, “Will-will-you all-go out?” the rain whisked lightly on the roof.
Ma leaned forward and with her palm she brushed the tousled hair back from her daughter’s forehead, and she kissed her on the forehead. Ma got up quickly.
“Come on, you fellas,” she called. “You come out in the tool shed.”
Ruthie opened her mouth to speak. “Hush,” Ma said. “Hush and git.” She herded them through the door, drew the boy with her; and she closed the squeaking door.
For a minute Rose of Sharon sat still in the whispering barn. The she hoisted her tired body up and drew the comfort about her. She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide, frightened eyes. Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. “There!” she said. “There.” Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.
The Joads have found refuge in an abandoned railroad car, having had to leave their spot on the government camp. The family has broken up—Noah has left, Connie has deserted Rose of Sharon, Casy has died, and Tom has been forced to leave. On top of all this, Rose of Sharon’s baby was born dead. The rains come, and soon a flood ravages the railroad yard, yet the Joads survive. They encounter a desperately ill man and his son, who join them in their refuge. The man is starving to death and unable to eat what food is offered to him. To weak to eat, Ma thinks of a possible solution. She looks at Rose of Sharon, whose breasts still hold the milk meant to nourish her now-deceased baby. Rose of Sharon understands Ma’s unspoken request. Taking the starving man in her arms, she nurses him as she would an infant. She gives a small smile, indicative that life will go on.
Analysis of Essential Passages
The Grapes of Wrath depicts the desperate and tragic lives of the migrants of the Great Depression during the 1930s. Forced out of their homes and the towns in which they were born, with the generations before them, the “Okies” travel to California, a land of hope. Yet, when they arrive, there is very little work and even less hope. Yet hope somehow survives.
Casy, the one-time preacher, feels the urge to preach, but he has nothing to preach. Tom convinces him to preach hope, the hope that resides in the heart of the people. Though Tom himself does not yet fully appreciate this message of hope, it begins a thread that runs through the entire novel. With every obstacle, with every heartache, a glimmer of hope still shines through.
As Ma points out, the people will always survive, and in the people lies hope. Though they seek desperately and fruitlessly for some sign of hope, they miss the fact that they themselves are the hope. Hope does not depend on financial security, but on humanity. Not shelter, not food, not warmth, but the individual himself or herself is the source of hope.
As the family begins to break up, Ma still manages to be the beacon of home that she has set herself out to be. Though one by one, sons, son-in-law, and grandchild all go away, Ma hangs on to hope. As Tom has declared him to be the spirit of the people no matter where they are found, Ma is the hope that is the foundation of the spirit.
As the family continues to wander, lost and disintegrating, they find refuge in a place of transience, a train. There is no stability, only a roof over their heads. They are faced with death yet again. Paralleling the flood that destroyed the earth in the Old Testament, one family survives to guarantee that life will go on, that hope will survive.
On the road, Granpa and Granma died; thus the past seems lost. Now, with the death of Rose of Sharon’s baby, it seems that the future is lost as well. Yet Ma still sees hope. The act of Rose of Sharon’s nursing the ill man is symbolic of the hope.
Steinbeck has established a new foundation for hope that goes against the traditions of the past. As the America that had existed up to this point was destroyed by the Great Depression, Steinbeck indicates that a new base for the country must be established. It is not in government or religion that this new country must be built, but on the people. The survival of the people, the common people, is the surest hope that any country will survive. Religion may fall out of fashion, governments may become corrupt and fall, yet (as Ma says) the people will survive.