Education Of The Heart


John Steinbeck shows the readers many themes in The Grapes of Wrath. One
of the most apparent is as Steinbeck stated, The Joads passage through a process of
education for the heart. Many characters in The Grapes or Wrath exhibit this theme,
but it is valiantly apparent in the actions of the Joads as a family, Tom, Casy, and Rose of
Sharon.

Although each person in the Joad family is a separate individual, the family often
acts as thought it were one person. As one might expect the experiences they incur
change the family personality. At the end of the book the Joads have lost their family
identity, but they’ve replaced it with something equally worthy: they’ve found kinship
with other migrant families. The Joads merge with the Wainwrights and the Wilsons,
because each family needed the other and the fragmented family becomes whole again.
The members don’t share last names, but they give support to each other in the form of
food, blankets, a kind word, medicine, advice, and even love. As Casy says, nobody has
an individual soul, but everybody’s just got a piece of a great big soul. By opening their
hearts the Joads transformed into members of the universal family.

Rose of Sharon, the eighteen year old daughter goes through a miraculous
transformation of the heart as the journey progresses. When the Joads first begin their
torrid journey Connie, Roses husband, and Rose set themselves apart from the mundane
matters that occupy the rest of the family. They focus solely on the baby and dwell in the
future instead of the present. They dream of the house they’ll buy for the baby in
California, about the car they’ll drive, and about Connie’s schooling and job. When the
going gets tough, Connie abandons his young wife, which may have been the turning
point in Roses life. As time the birth approaches, Rose of Sharon does a surprising thing
for someone in her delicate state, as she insists on picking cotton with the rest of her
family.

After a few days the baby is born dead and she seems relieved to know that she
won’t have to raise a child in awesome poverty. Suffering through childbirth has perhaps
opened her eyes. Throughout the book we have seen her concerned almost exclusively
with herself and her problems. Now she looks out at the world and turns completely
about. In an act of extreme charity, she suckles a dying man with the milk of human
kindness. Rose of Sharon discovers that everybody must be treated as family if they are
to endure. It’s a message of love, which Rose of Sharon powerfully dramatizes for us in a
barn.

Jim Casy, one of the three most important characters in the Grapes of Wrath only
appears in about one third of the book, yet we rarely forget him. Although Casy was
never a Joad, even Tom had stated he’s close enough to be a Joad. Casy, a former
preacher, retreats from organized religion because hypocrisy and a weakness for women
have forced him to reexamine his beliefs. He no longer believes in the individual, but
strongly believes that all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of. In Hooverville,
Casy at last gets his chance to practice what he has started to preach. Tom trips the
deputy sheriff who wants to arrest Floyd, an innocent man.
Casy joins the fray and
knocks the man out with a kick to the neck. When the sheriff returns to haul Tom to jail,
Casy volunteers to go in Tom’s place: Somebody got to take the blame… an’ I ain’t doin’
nothin’ but set aroun’. Months later we run into Casy again. Out of jail, he has begun to
organize the workers, and in fact, he leads the strike at Hooper Ranch. He has translated
his love for people into an effort to show them that their strength lies in collective action.
Casy devotes his life to the union movement, and later gives it. In effect, Casy sacrifices
himself so that others may be better off.

Tom Joad, the most important character in the Grapes of Wrath, is an
individual who realizes the importance of having a heart. Tom has a quick temper, he
killed a man in a drunken brawl, speaks harshly to the truck driver who gives him a lift;
scolds the one-eyed man for feeling self-pity; and tells off the fat man who runs the
filling station. Tom doesn’t despise each man, but only because each feels defeated by
life’s hardships. Tom gives them all a brutally frank pep talk, as though he wants to get
them moving again. Tom can’t just throw up his hands and walk away from problems,
and he doesn’t want to see others do that either. As the Joads wander around California,
Tom meets more good people who keep up the increasingly difficult struggle to live a
decent life.

From then on, Tom follows in Casy’s footsteps. His concerns extend beyond
himself and his family. They now include all downtrodden people. He feels a calling to
help in any way he can. Casy’s violent death probably hastens Tom’s decision to work for
the welfare of all poor people. As he says to Ma just before he leaves the family forever,
I’ll be aroun’ in the dark, I’ll be ever’where–wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight
so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be
there. Tom may end up dead, like Casy, but there is no doubt that he’ll go down
swinging.

When we look at the theme of the education of the heart we can realize that these
characters didn’t start the journey with the belief that their a part of a great big soul. We
can see and realize the gradual yet dramatic transformation of these three characters.
Casy lives and dies for others, and at the end Tom will walk in Casy’s footsteps. Rose of
Sharon soon after follows as she offers her milk to a stranger, she wears an enigmatic
smile, suggesting that she, too, has discovered the joy that comes from opening the heart.

Post Tagged with :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *