Religious Symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath: Biblical & Christian

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.

Steinbeck uses religious symbolism throughout ''The Grapes of Wrath'' to foreshadow and symbolize the trials the Joads have to face. This lesson discusses the symbolism and its meaning.


John Steinbeck uses a lot of symbolism to portray the story of the Joads and their journey from Oklahoma to California in The Grapes of Wrath. A turtle traveling through the heavy soil foreshadows the slow and arduous journey the Joads will face. The death of the Joads dog symbolizes oppression at the hands of rich land owners.

However, Steinbeck focuses a lot on symbolism based in religious imagery. Let's take a look at how he uses the people and places in the story to reflect parts of the Bible and its people.

Religious Events

The book has different phases. In the beginning the Joads are living in the Dust Bowl, an area of the Midwest that was affected by immense dust storms during the Great Depression. The Dust Bowl symbolizes the desert in the Bible that Moses takes the Israelites to in order to escape slavery. This time was especially challenging as there was no food or water, and the heat was immense. This reflects in the story of the Joads and their suffering and poverty.

The second phase is the mass exodus to California on Route 66. The Joads and many other people have the same idea and are moving in hopes of finding work. This is a close parallel to Exodus of the Bible which depicts the fleeing of the Israelites to freedom from slavery. Steinbeck uses Route 66 to symbolize this journey in the Bible.

At the end of the book the Joads are living in a train car, and Rose of Sharon is in labor while a large rain storm carries on, flooding the nearby river. This symbolism refers to the flood in the Bible and how it cleansed the land of sin. Perhaps Steinbeck was referring to a cleansing of the Joad's lives and the hope for the future.

This symbolism is even more obvious when taking each event as a whole; the story starts off in the desert and progresses into the flood and the cleansing of the world.

Symbolic People

The Grapes of Wrath also has people that are symbols for religious characters. One of the first and most prominent is Jim Casy. A former preacher, he left his calling because of his own sins. However, he is always ruminating about God, and brings the story of God and Jesus to the Joads and others that he meets on his journey.

This symbolizes the life of Christ and how he brought the word of God to others while he lived his own life and endured much suffering. Jim Casy even shares the same initials as Jesus Christ. In the end, Jim Casy becomes a martyr for the people of the union, just as Christ was a martyr for his people.

The second symbolic person is Rose of Sharon's baby. The baby, born during a storm, is stillborn. Normally the baby would be buried, but instead John puts the baby, who he had carried in an apple box, in the stream to float down to the town.

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