The Grapes of Wrath has many allusions to the biblical text. The characters are paralleled with biblical persons, some easily recognisable, while others are more subtle in their construction. The post-war years of the depression was a time of great distress for those involved which tested many faiths in God. Such allusions are therefore representative of the nation's doubt in times of struggle and aims to realistically depict the questions and nature of the human spirit.
The Joads and the Book of Job
The Joad family can be directly compared to the eighteenth book of the Old Testament, Job. The biblical story makes an example of people whose faith is tested through struggle. Satan visits God and God asks him, 'Have you seen my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth - a man of complete integrity. He fears God and has nothing to do with evil.' (Job 1:8). God permits Satan to test Job in any way, without harming him physically. So, after losing all his material processions and family, Job remains strong in his faith, although struggles and wrestles with such dramatic changes in his life. We observe a similar situation with the Joad family who experience drastic changes just like Job, where the once affluent, once secure family, survive off their human spirit.
Noah and the Flood
When the Joad family crams their car with their processions, there is a great sense of purpose established. In this way, it can be likened to Noah and his family in Genesis, who spend time
packing up the ark with animals as God has ordered. The Joads must gather all the important things they need in order to ensure survival, just as Noah's family who were sent on a mission
by God to resume human life. In Galati's play, the second act ends with a massive flood where the Joad's car, their ark, begins to sink. The same sense of an uncontrolled disaster, such as the
weather, in the story of Noah and the flood is paralleled in the ending of this play.
Interestingly enough, the character of Noah Joad, the eldest son, decides to follow the river on his own and cannot bear to stay with his family. His connection to the river and the water is a connection perhaps to the forty days the biblical Noah spent on the ark.
The Promised Land
For hundreds of years the Hebrews dreamt about God's Promised Land while experiencing the oppression of slavery in Egypt. Under the persistence of Moses, the people began their journey to the Promised Land after he parted the Red Sea. In the Book of Numbers, Moses sends some men to explore the promise land, and this is how it was described in Numbers 13:23.
When they came to what is now known as the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also took samples of the pomegranates and figs.
There are direct similarities here to Grandpa Joad's dreams about eating as many grapes as he could when he arrived in California during the first act of The Grapes of Wrath.
Know what I'm a-gonna do when I get there? I'm gonna pick me a whole bunch of grapes offa bush or whatever and squash ‘em on my face an' let the juice run of-fen my chin.
Jim Casy parallels to Jesus Christ
Jim Casy, an ex-reverend in the play, is often believed to be a metaphor to Jesus Christ. The most obvious indicators are the shared initials between the two of them and also the religious agenda they both explore. In the first act, Casy is the voice of the modern faith, constantly thinking and re-evaluating his ideas about how people live their lives. He gives up his ministerial position because he realises he 'never loved nobody name' Jesus' and thus could not pretend to be a preacher.
However, in the second act, Casy becomes something of a revolutionist. He is arrested without premise, much like Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, taking the blame for Tom Joad, and when found again has become somewhat nomadic and a man of great clarity in his beliefs. He thus contains the same radical confidence and leadership that Jesus himself embodied. Casy discovers the power of his voice for what is right, the power of persistence in making a change, like Christ, he essentially challenges the authority that oppresses the working class people.
Well, one day they give us some beans that was sour. One fella started yellin', an' nothin' happened. He yelled his head off. Trusty come along an' looked in an' went on. Then another fella yelled. Well, sir, then we all got yellin'. And we all got on the same tone, An' I tell ya, it jus' seemed like that tank bulged an' give an' swelled up. By God! Then somepin' happened! They come a-runnin', an' they give Us some other stuff to eat – give it to us. Ya see?
Casy teaches Tom Joad how to change things that seem unchangeable; he teaches him how to speak for the oppressed, he teaches him to yell - much like Christ taught his disciples. Casy is likened to Jesus Christ as an advocate for change, and in his death leaves a legacy of great teaching.
See how Casy parallels Jesus by looking at the following biblical passages:
Jesus struggles with his life's purpose (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46) - parallels Casy's struggle in the first act;
Jesus gets arrested in the Garden of Gethsemene (Matthew 26: 47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-5) - parallels Casy's innocent arrest in Act Two – Homerville; and
Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer (Matthew 6:5-15, Luke 11:1-13) - parallels Casy's teachings about yelling and how to find change.
Tom Joad as an apostle of Jim Casy
At the beginning of the play Tom returning home is much like the parable of the prodigal son. As Jim Casy says 'It's a thing to see when a boy comes home. It's a thing to see' (Galati, 17). However, even as a murderer, he evolves throughout his journey to become like a disciple of Jim Casy. By the end of the play, Tom understands what it was Jim Casy was talking about!
There is some indication that he will become an advocate for his teachings, promising to fight for injustice along the way.
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. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build – why, I'll be there. See? God, I'm talkin' like Casy.
He becomes an advocate and leaves his family, ready to spread the word of Casy, ready to stand up for what he believes in, what really matters to him in life. He has found his purpose.
Rose of Sharon
The Hibiscus Syriacus, more commonly named the Rose of Sharon, is a medium-sized ornamental shrub. However, it is the flower that eloquently blooms on this shrub that retains the most significance. The flowers are large and showy, and originally found in Syria.
As for the character Rosasharn in The Grapes of Wrath, her name is decidedly relevant to play as it is embedded in Biblical metaphor. Mentioned in the bible, the flower encapsulates the humble quality of the young women in the romantic book of Song of Songs. In this ancient biblical text, the young woman refers to herself as a Rose of Sharon or a Lily of the Valley, both flowers commonly found in Israel at the time. She is in fact calling herself 'ordinary' or 'common', not unlike Rosasharn in The Grapes of Wrath. Ironically her circumstances are by no means ordinary by the end of the play.
Further information on biblical allusions is at http://www.courseworkbank.co.uk/coursework/grapes_wrath_-_allusions_2692
Bits of the Bible
Ask student to embody the moral characteristics of their biblical character without revealing who they are playing, and avoiding obvious giveaways in their performance. Then those watching must switch – creating a 'modern' character in a relevant social context (such as a homeless mother or as a lawyer) and transfer those moral traits into a new character.