The Power of Religion in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck’s epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, chronicles the struggles of the Joads as they join the thousands of fellow “Okies” in a mass migration westward. The Joads reluctantly leave behind their Oklahoma farm in search of work and food in California. While Steinbeck writes profoundly and emotionally about the political problems of the Great Depression, his characters also show evidence of a deep concern with spirituality. When they feel hopeless and are uncertain about their immediate future, their concentration on religion dwindles. On the other hand, when they leave their home, the Joads regain spiritual faith; they have something to live for: California. Once they arrive and find only more difficulties, they lose their sense that better things are ahead of them and gravitate back towards thinking politically. However, they finally return to the source of their original faith–religion– at their most desperate time.
One of the first characters Steinbeck introduces (after Tom Joad) is the former preacher Jim Casy, who questions his own faith in his initial conversation with Tom: “Ain’t got the call [to preach] no more. Got a lot of sinful idears-but they seem kinda sensibleThe sperit’s strong in me, on’y it ain’t the sameHere I got the sperit sometimes an’ nothin’ to preach about. I got the call to lead the people, an’ no place to lead ’em” (Steinbeck 20-21). His skepticism precludes him from preaching. He still recognizes the importance of his religion, but he is no longer sure of its role in the times of hopelessness. Casy could not preach when neither he nor those to whom he preached had a purpose. When guided by a goal, though, he pro…
…gles with their own faith in the midst of hunger, poverty, homelessness and loss of family are enlightening, and can inspire people who are not in that terrible situation to reconsider themselves.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.
Conder, John J. “Steinbeck and Nature’s Self: The Grapes of Wrath.” John Steinbeck, Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 125-140.
French, Warren. John Steinbeck. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975.
Levant, Howard. “The Fully Matured Art: The Grapes of Wrath.” John Steinbeck, Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 35-62.
Lojek, Helen. “Jim Casy: Politico of the New Jerusalem.” Steinbeck Quarterly, Winter-Spring 1982. 30-37.
The New American Bible, Gospel of John. 23:34. New York: The Catholic Press, 1976.