Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grapes of Wrath -- "Self-Preservation" Critical Response

November 17, 2010

The novel The Grapes of Wrath has a strong underlined message regarding self-preservation and benefits and/or consequences that can occur as a result of the action. Through plot progression and numerous forms of character development, author John Steinbeck strives to make a point that actions based on the needs and well-being of a single individual cannot go unheeded without misfortune following closely behind. Alongside this thought, Steinbeck also brings forth the idea that choices and deeds based on sustaining the interests of a group are more likely to promote prosperity and success.

The idea of individuals facing hardship as a result of their own selfish doing can be related from Steinbeck’s words directly to the everyday individual in real-life society. Through portraying images that can be conveyed to the novel’s readers, the author brings forth a way of trying to interpret that the thought that selfishness will only set back the everyday individual when it comes to success. For example, Rose of Sharon was a prime example throughout the novel as a character that faced misfortune after misfortune from her own selfishness. Throughout the Joad family’s journey to California, Rose of Sharon was completely absorbed in the well-being of her and her unborn child, which restricted her from contributing to the group’s needs for survival. Time and time again throughout the progression of the plot, many of the setbacks that occur for the family have a direct relation to Rose of Sharon’s individual situation, such as Connie Rivers’ departure or her baby being conceived as a stillborn. Upon reaching the final chapter of the novel, after basically losing everything she once had besides her family, Rose of Sharon was presented an opportunity to redeem herself for her actions, providing sustenance for a man about to perish from starvation, and ultimately changing how readers view her from a spoiled, selfish perception to one of a more giving figure.

Alongside Rose of Sharon’s endeavors, the consequences for selfishness were also portrayed through how people acted in the camps throughout California where the migrants thrived and lived collectively. In the establishments, power was given to the Okies, allowing for them to create their own system of governing and control. Through this, an organized method of cooperation was established to create a form a society where everybody worked together to help provide the needs of everyone, instead of simply the needs of the few. As a consequence, anybody taking action strictly to preserve their own well-being without assisting the well-being of others would face ejection from the camp they are residing in, as well as being ostracized from all of the other camp communities in California. This drastic case of action is a strong example of Steinbeck using the setting and plot of the novel to represent his belief of individualism and the negative repercussions that arise because of it. Having such an over-the-top course of action to punish those who were responsible for going against the beliefs of the majority of the novel’s characters shows just how loyal the author is to his own beliefs, as well as his opinions on judgment for those who decide against those beliefs in a drastic situation.

Given the circumstance of the Joads, and all other Okies for that matter, it is not surprising for an individual in The Grapes of Wrath to be tempted with the option to merely look out for oneself.  The external struggle of having the option to ignore surrounding members of society to benefit only a given individual creates an internal struggle that is difficult to resolve, in fiction or in truth, regardless of if selfishness is handled in an easier fashion. Though it is assumed to be the simpler solution to simply fix your own troubles rather than the troubles of everybody around you, bad luck will most likely follow closely behind if you neglect the others who live among you. Steinbeck uses Rose of Sharon and the California camps as a way to explain to readers that we must work collectively as a group if we want to experience the greatest possible benefit in our own situations. Although it is fair to say that individualism and collectivism, when alone, have their own unique positive and negative values, the author believes that our responsibilities are best handled together if we want to achieve the greatest form of prosperity available.

1 comment:

  1. What makes Rose of Sharon the most effective example to select from this novel? Your treatment of her development is straightforward and adept, but hardly relates the inspiration of Steinbeck's work.

    On a completely different note: you've essentially mastered formal essay writing. Therefore, I double-dog-dare you to attempt something less comfortable (a character's perspective/voice, for example)in a future critical response assignment. That may force you to consider your evidence more judiciously, and allow you to stretch the boundaries of your analysis.