John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, on February 27, 1902. He studied marine biology at Stanford University and then traveled east on a freighter through the Panama Canal. Steinbeck went to New York to work as a newspaper reporter but soon returned to California and held a variety of jobs while he wrote. Steinbeck published Tortilla Flat in 1935, Of Mice and Men in 1937, and The Red Pony in 1937, which established his reputation as a forceful writer. In 1939 he wrote The Grapes of Wrath, which summoned up the despair and hardship of the early 1930’s. John Steinbeck died in 1968.

The Grapes of Wrath is a story about one family’s hardship during the Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. The Joads were a hard-working family with a strong sense of togetherness and morals; they farmed their land and went about their business without bothering anyone. When the big drought hit it forced them to sell the land they had lived on since before anyone can remember. Their oldest son, Tom, has been in jail the past four years and returns to find his childhood home abandoned. He learns his family has moved in with his Uncle John and decides to travel a short distance to see them.

He arrives only to learn they are packing up their belongings and moving to California, someplace where there is a promise of work and food. This sets the Joad family off on a long and arduous journey with one goal: to survive. In this novel Steinbeck set forth with the intention of raising awareness to the general public of the difficulties and injustices these migrants faced during this period in time. It exposed the methods of the California farmer to use the migrants in order to lower their costs and make their profit margin higher.

How they starved and cheated the poor, working man, in order to keep him desperate for food and too weak to protest. Above all it showed everyone that these “damn Okies” were all simply men, women, and children, no different from anyone else, just poorer (Frohock 133). They were human beings with feelings and not the uncivilized beasts they were portrayed as at the time. John Steinbeck carefully molded his story The Grapes of Wrath to encompass many themes and ideas. To help enforce his message Steinbeck included several Biblical allusions.

John Steinbeck uses Biblical allusions to create the theme that strength to survive comes from faith by using characters and events. Steinbeck creates the theme of the novel by alluding the characters in his story to characters in the Bible. Jim Casy is an allusion to Jesus Christ. They have the same initials and live their lives as examples of their beliefs: Jesus to the world as Casy is to Tom (Rombold 149). Casy even compares himself to Christ when he says, “I got tired like Him, an’ I got mixed up like Him, an’ I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin’ stuff” (105).

In the first half of the book Casy is thinking and forming his ideas. He changes from a thinker to a man of action when he sacrifices himself for Tom (Slade 242). When in prison Casy sees the advantage of organizing people to achieve a common goal. When Casy tried to put his ideas into action he, like Christ, aroused the antagonism of the people in authority and was brutally killed. He died, like Christ saying to his crucifiers, “You don’ know what you’re a-doin’” (495). Also Rose of Sharon represents a Biblical allusion towards the end of the novel.

After she gives birth to her stillborn child, she gives life to a starving man by breast-feeding him. Her sacrifice suggests the notion of rebirth through Christ’s physical body, which is symbolized in the ritual of communion (Pratt 326). When she tells the man to drink her milk she alludes to the Last Supper when Christ tells his disciples “Take, drink; this is my blood. ” Rose of Sharon realizes this man will die without her, in the same way Christ says that without Him people will die spiritually. Rose of Sharon exemplifies the idea of helping others in need through her actions in the conclusion of the novel (Kennedy 533).

The Joad family is made up of twelve, including Connie, much like the twelve disciples that followed Jesus. Connie represents the traitor, the Judas figure who had betrayed Jesus the night of his arrest when he walks out on his family for selfish reasons. Steinbeck also alludes to events in the Bible through situations among the Joad family. Their journey to California is much like the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to Canaan. The novel is broken up into three sections. The first part is the Joad’s eviction from their farms under the control of the banks and companies, which parallel the Israelites’ slavery to the Egyptians (Rombold 149).

Both groups struggled under the control of overwhelming forces and left in hopes of a better life. The second part is the Joad’s journey from Oklahoma across the Panhandle in search of the promised California that parallels the Israelites wandering in the desert in search of the Promised Land (Rombold 150). Both groups experienced many troubles, but were forced to rely on each other to survive. The third part is the Joad’s arrival to California, which parallels the Israelites arrival to Canaan (Rombold 152). The journey for the Israelites lasted so many years that only the younger generation made it to the Promised Land.

In the same way Granma and Grampa died before they reached the promised California. The flood at the end of the novel is another example of a Biblical allusion used by Steinbeck. This situation parallels to the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark. In both events, heavy rains cause a flood that results in the families leaving their homes. In the novel, the Joads and the Wainwrights gather their belongings onto a platform and wait out the flood, much like Noah and his family gathered on the ark for forty days until the rain stops. These situations show again the importance of unity and helping one another to make it through troubles.

Steinbeck also helps to create his theme by alluding to events in the Bible through situations among the Joad family. The novel can be broken up into three sections by the events that take place. The first part is the Joad’s eviction from their farms under the control of the banks and companies, which parallel the Israelites’ slavery to the Egyptians. Both groups struggled under the control of overwhelming forces and left in hopes of a better life. The second part is the Joad’s journey from Oklahoma across the Panhandle in search of the promised California that parallels the Israelites wandering in the desert in search of the Promised Land.

Both groups experienced many troubles and hardships, and were forced to rely on their faith and on each other to survive. The third part is the Joad’s arrival to California, which parallels the Israelites arrival to Canaan. The journey for the Israelites lasted so many years that only the younger generation made it to the Promised Land. In the same way Granma and Grampa died before they reached the promised California just as the Hebrews wondered until the older generations died before they could enter the Promised Land.

The flood at the end of the novel is another example of a Biblical allusion used by Steinbeck (Slade 245). This situation parallels to the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark. In both events, heavy rains cause a flood that results in the families leaving their homes. In the novel, the Joads and the Wainwrights gather their belongings onto a platform and wait out the flood, much like Noah and his family gathered on the ark for forty days until the rain stops (Rombold 160). These situations show again the importance of unity and finding strength through faith to make it through troubles.

John Steinbeck uses the characters and events in The Grapes of Wrath to allude to Biblical characters and events to create the theme that the strength to survive comes from faith. Though it is not as obvious as other methods Steinbeck uses to portray his themes and ideas, it is still a very strong method that can easily be seen after it is pointed out. I hope that by showing this alternative view to how Steinbeck creates his theme in The Grapes of Wrath other readers will look for new ways to read what a book has to say.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.