Unity in The Grapes of Wrath: Theme & Examples

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

As the Joad family learns during the Great Depression, the only way they can survive is by uniting with others. In this lesson we will examine the theme of unity in John Steinbeck's ''The Grapes of Wrath.''

Definitions and Background

The motto of Three Musketeers--'All for one and one for all!'--demonstrates their unity. Unity means working together as one for the common good, and it is one of the themes of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. As the Joad family faces multiple obstacles during the Great Depression, they learn that the only way to overcome their hardships is by uniting with others who are in the same situation. Let's look at some examples of unity from this novel.

The Oversoul

Jim Casy was once the preacher, but he left the church after he began to have doubts. He tells Tom, 'Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,' I figgered, 'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit--the human sperit--the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of.' Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a suddent--I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.' Casy is the first to introduce the idea that what affects one person has an effect, either positive or negative, on all other people. At first Tom doesn't understand what Casy means, but as the Joads experience more oppression, he starts to see the wisdom in Casy's theories.

Displaced Sharecroppers

Tom Joad has recently been paroled after serving 4 years of a 7-year sentence for homicide. When he gets out, he finds that his family has been driven from their home by the bank. Ma is already worried that prison may have turned Tom mean. When he expresses his anger at what has happened to the family, Ma says, 'Tommy, don't you go fightin' 'em alone. They'll hunt you down like a coyote. Tommy, I got to thinkin' an' dreamin' an' wonderin'. They say there's a hun'erd thousand of us shoved out. If we was all mad the same way, Tommy--they wouldn't hunt nobody down--'

Ma realizes that if all the neighbors were unified, the bank would be forced to contend with the displaced sharecroppers, but the people are in a daze. They can't believe that they have found themselves without homes and jobs and are too worried about what to do next to think about banding together.

What Casy Learns in Prison

When Tom tripped a police officer who had been harassing them at the migrant workers' camp, Casy took the blame. He was afraid that if Tom got caught, he would suffer greater consequences because he violated his parole in Oklahoma by going to California. While in prison, Casy learns some valuable lessons. He explains, 'Well, one day they give us some beans that was sour. One fella started yellin', an' nothin' happened…. Then another fella yelled. Well, sir, then we all got yellin'. And we all got on the same tone, an' I tell ya, it jus' seemed like that tank bulged an' give and swelled up. By God! Then somepin happened! They come a-runnin', and they give us some other stuff to eat…' Casy's theory about working together to help one another was proven to be true as even in prison, when everyone unified, the guards paid attention.

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