Later on in the novel Tom Joad, who is the protagonist of the novel, sees a cat. This cat used to hang around the Joad family’s home. Similar to the migrants, it has also been tossed out of its home. The cat now lives in a hostile world around it and it must learn to survive in the same way that the migrants must learn to survive. The cat used to be a house pet; and now, it has turned into a wild animal and this really shows how much attention Steinbeck wants us to pay on how the Oklahoma residents or “Okies” transform into migrants.
Steinbeck also wants the reader to notice the manner in which the Joads’ dog dies. Although, the Joads didn’t really have a habitual relationship with this dog, and they didn’t really have a unique name of this dog; nonetheless, he was the family dog:
A big swift car whisked near, tires squealed. The dog dodged helplessly, and with a shriek, cut off in the middle, went under the wheels. The big car slowed for a moment and faces looked back, and then it gathered greater speed and disappeared. And the dog, a blot of blood and tangled, burst intestines, kicked slowly in the road.
This dog is run over by a speeding car; as a result, his body is distorted to a point that his guts lie tangled. From reading this passage we get the feeling that some horrific circumstances lie ahead for the Joads since we learn that some characters die in a horrific manner as well. This indicates that the times are hard, and many people are very angry and desperate; thus, they will not even hesitate to take the life of a poor creature.
We watch humans take the life of animals without a second thought, and we also witness many similarities between the ways humans and animals behave during these distressful times. Steinbeck’s clever uses of metaphors are quite evident in this regard and they add power to the factual ideas of this historical phenomenon which occurs during the 1930s economic depression.
Apart from the metaphors, Steinbeck also uses a quite a lot of imagery throughout the novel and it really adds power and depth to many of the ideas that he is trying to get across. One thing that becomes apparent in this novel is that it is based on true historical events. Due to this reason, Steinbeck does his best to make the novel come to life by his use of imagery which in turn gets the message across much more powerfully. One example of this is the image of the “bank.”
There is a point in the novel where landowners start to kick many helpless tenant farmers off of the land, the landowner tell them that the bank is hungry and the bank is a “monster” that cannot be sated. This is conveyed quite remarkably by Steinbeck as the narrator describes: “We can’t depend on it. The bank-the monster has to have profits all the time. It can’t wait” (34). This is one of the most outstanding image in the novel as it quite accurately describes the bank. The bank is a monster; it has no sympathy for the poor sharecroppers. This image also adds power to this novel because had Steinbeck just wrote that the banks is working against the people, then it might not have been a powerful message to the reader but due to this image the reader really feels what the sharecropper are going through.
The tractors that are supposed to clear up the land are also part of this dilemma. These tractor are “snub-nosed monsters, raising the dust and sticking their snouts into it, straight down the country, across the country, through fences, through dooryards, in and out of gullies in straight lines” (37). When these tractors arrive to clear the land, the tenant farmers start to wonder who really is in charge and they look for someone who can file their complaints. Of course the tractor drivers simply say, “Fellow was telling me the bank gets orders from the East. The orders were, ‘Make the land show profit or we’ll close you up” (49). We come to the conclusion that there is no specific person to blame or even a single person held responsible for these actions. We simply know that the banks in the East want more profit out of the drought affected land and they will do anything to achieve this objective. Since we never actually come in contact with any bankers and landowners, we only know that they exist somewhere in the country, and that they are throwing poor sharecropper families out of their homes. Hence the remarkable line, “The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it” (36).
To address the backbone of the novel, Steinbeck has introduced another fine imagery. The main reasons the sharecroppers are heading to California is because of the work opportunities there and for a better life overall. For decades, California had been an icon of prosperity and this gives the reader the image of California that it is the best place for the sharecroppers to head to. It turns out that this was not the case: the image of California was false.
Steinbeck has completely changed the image of California once the sharecroppers reached there. It was completely opposite of what we thought it would be. California is a place of wretchedness and harassment for the migrants. We feel as though the migrant are in a worst place than before; they have very little money, food, and are living in filthy camps. From then on, a new image of California emerges: it is nothing but a place of misery for the migrants.
Steinbeck has saved one of the most intriguing imagery for the last chapter. Rose of Sharon, who was pregnant, goes into labour and soon gives birth to a stillborn child, “a blue shrivelled little mummy;” (464) so it becomes apparent to us that she can breast feed. Oddly enough, the last scene of the novel is of Rose of Sharon nourishing a starving man:
For a minute Rose of Sharon sat still in the whispering barn. Then she hoisted her tired body up and drew the comfort about her. She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide, frightened eyes. Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. “There!” she said. “There.” Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.