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Biblical Allusions & References in The Grapes of Wrath

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  • 0:03 ''The Grapes of Wrath''
  • 0:43 Biblical Allusions to Events
  • 2:41 Biblical References to…
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

John Steinbeck wrote 'The Grapes of Wrath' using biblical images and ideas. In this lesson, we'll discuss some of these biblical allusions and ideas that emphasize the Joad family's tribulations.

The Grapes of Wrath

In 1939, John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, a novel about an Oklahoma family who loses their farm during the Great Depression. Steinbeck wrote the novel after researching the Okies and migrant workers. The Okies are the dispossessed Oklahomafarmers that left to try and find work in the more fertile lands of California. Steinbeck visited migrant worker camps in California, assessed the living conditions, and interviewed the people. He realized the people were barely eating, the camps were in shambles, and the large land owners were treating these people very badly. His anger at the difficulty of their lives is what inspired him to write The Grapes of Wrath.

Biblical Allusions to Events

Steinbeck used a lot of biblical allusions in this novel. An allusion is a way for a writer to bring up an important idea or concept without directly discussing it. Allusions are usually used to emphasize a point or idea. Steinbeck uses allusions to indicate the gravity of the Joad family's situation and to foreshadow, or warn, of the challenges that were coming for them. There are three allusions Steinbeck uses to give reference to the three phases of life for the Joads.

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl was a region in the Great Plains, including Oklahoma, that experienced severe dust storms in the 1930s. This is where the Joad family was living when they lost their farm. These storms were caused by drought and poor farming practices, and the storms caused severe issues with farming. Steinbeck used the Dust Bowl as an allusion to the desert of Egypt, where the Israelites suffered under a cruel ruler and then struggled as they followed Moses toward the Promised Land.

People Seeking Work in California

The Joads moving from Oklahoma to California is another allusion. Steinbeck describes how the Joads travel on Route 66, along with many other farming families, heading for the fertile land of California. This is like the Israelites moving out of Egypt to find the Promised Land in the Bible. The Israelites were experiencing oppression and slavery in Egypt, so they fled to find freedom and a better life. This allusion infers that the Joad's have been slaves to their land in the Dust Bowl, and now they were free.

The Flooding of the Train Car

The novel ends with the flooding of the train car, which is similar to the flood in the Bible. In the biblical story, God became angry by the sin of the people on Earth and told Noah to build an ark to save his family and two animals of every species. Then he flooded the land, killing everyone but the people and animals on the ark. The novel ends with the Joad's home, an abandoned train car, being flooded by constant rain. This could refer to a cleansing of the environment and a new beginning for the Joad family.

Biblical References to Characters

Steinbeck did not stop with using allusions for phases in his story. He also used characters to refer to individuals in the Bible.

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