Symbolism in "The Grapes of Wrath"

Essay by florin15High School, 11th gradeA+, June 2007

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The timeless classic "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck tells the story of the Joad family during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s and how they leave their home in Oklahoma to try to find work in California. However, the novel is more than just about the Joads' expedition across the western United States. Symbols play a key part in the meaning of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

One of the main symbols comes very early in the story, the turtle. As the turtle is walking across an old dirt road, a car begins to come near where the turtle is crossing. The car swerves in order to miss the slow, helpless turtle. The turtle ducks into its shell for safety. When it realizes that it is safe, it peaks his head out of its protective shell and continues its trek across the road. A few minutes later a truck comes down the road the other way.

The driver swerves intentionally to hit the defenseless animal. The trucker hits the side of the turtles shell, quickly flipping it over. The turtle struggles to get itself back on its underside, thrashing its arms and legs with all of its might. Finally, it is able to turn itself over. After this near catastrophe, the turtle sits in the safety of its shell again, not knowing if it was going to make it across to the other side of the road. It begins walking again. Using the symbol of the turtle, Steinbeck seems to be suggesting that outside factors affect the fate of the turtle more than the turtle himself. This is closely related to human fate. We, too, are at the mercy of outside factors such as our surroundings.

Most of the other symbolism in the novel is...