Exodus Inverted: A New Look at The Grapes of Wrath

in Religion and the Arts
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John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath has been read typically as period social activism, as sentimental Marxist fable, and as watered-down Christian theology via its failed preacher, Jim Casy. Religious interpretations have at best seen the text as an allegorical reenactment of Exodus. Yet such criticism requires a willful misreading of the text, as the Joads end the story not in a promised land but destitute. The novel makes more sense, however, if seen as a reversal of Exodus. The Joads progress from a despoiled but occupied promised land (Oklahoma) toward bondage in Egypt (California). This extended image pattern permits Steinbeck to draw a larger thematic vision in which material poverty teaches the Joads a broadly Christian worldview. Far from ending in despair, the novel closes in the Joads emerging from a self-satisfied and legalistic moralism into a new ethos of universal love in the pattern of Christ, culminating in Rose of Sharon's spiritual maturity in her selfless act at the novel's end when the family finally moves from “I” to “we.”



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