The Grapes of Wrath

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Themes and Colors
Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Theme Icon
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Grapes of Wrath, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon

At different times in The Grapes of Wrath, nearly all of the main characters endure spiritually trying times. Casy is the first to address this theme when he speaks of his reformed faith: instead of the black-and-white teachings of Christian dogma, Casy has come to believe in a natural unity of the human race. Tom, too, comes to this realization later in the novel, after hiding from the law in the woods. Finally, Ma Joad’s determination to press forward is itself a sort of faith that things will turn out all right. Notably, the faith these characters hold is often detached from established religion. Casy abandoned his preaching because of skepticism about Christianity, and Ma Joad resists the holier-than-thou attitude of the "Jehovites" (Jehova's Witnesses) in the government camp. The aspects of Christianity still present in the Joads’ lives tend to resemble rituals, like saying Grace to please Granma, more than sincere beliefs.

On the flipside of the characters' faith is a sense of guilt that often cripples them. Rosasharn worries constantly that her baby will be harmed because of her own improper behavior and the behavior of those around her. Uncle John feels responsible for the death of his wife, and tries to atone for his sins by living generously, although his anguish often drives him to drink. At the emotional climax of the story—when Rosasharn delivers a stillborn child—Pa Joad agonizes about whether there was more he could have done to save the baby, just as he agonizes about hurting his firstborn, Noah, when Noah was delivered.

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Faith and Guilt Quotes in The Grapes of Wrath

Below you will find the important quotes in The Grapes of Wrath related to the theme of Faith and Guilt.
Chapter 4 Quotes

“I says, ‘Maybe it ain't a sin. Maybe it's just the way folks is. Maybe we been whippin’ the hell out of ourselves for nothin’.’…Before I knowed it, I was sayin’ out loud, ‘The hell with it! There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing. And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that's as far as any man got a right to say.’”

Related Characters: Jim Casy (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom Joad has met Jim Casy, a former preacher who believes that he baptized Tom long ago. Casy tells Tom why he left the church: he had been sleeping with girls in his congregation until he began to feel wracked with guilt. Here he explains to Tom the progress in his thoughts concerning his own actions and their relationship to his faith. He does feel that he betrayed the girls' trust, but he also cannot accept that his attraction to them was fully sinful. This realization has made him feel that there cannot be such black and white categories as "sin" and "virtue." Instead, he thinks that there is a more gray area in terms of how humans should act, a gray area that is so complicated that mere humans shouldn't claim to be able to pronounce without doubt what is right and wrong.

Still, Jim Casy's reasoning is clouded by a sense that what he did cannot be entirely excused. His exclamation, "The hell with it!", expresses his frustration with the categories that are available to him, as he searches for meaning that would be more satisfying than the empty-seeming rules and dictates of his religion.

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“maybe it's all men an’ all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit—the human sperit—the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a suddent—I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.”

Related Characters: Jim Casy (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jim Casy continues talking to Tom about his struggle with his faith, he strikes a more positive note as he searches for an alternative to the strict categories of sin and virtue that he has long since decided are insufficient. He continues to make use of some of the terms and beliefs that were part of his arsenal as a preacher, but here he uses the idea of the Holy Spirit, for instance, to describe something different than the figure in the Bible. Jim Casy instead develops a notion of an all-encompassing sense of humanity, a community that all can be a part of, and a community defined by love rather than guilt. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

“I ain’t sayin’ I’m like Jesus…But I got tired like Him, an’ I got mixed up like Him, an’ I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin’ stuff…Sometimes I’d pray like I always done. On’y I couldn’ figure what I was prayin’ to or for. There was the hills, an’ there was me, an’ we wasn’t separate no more. We was one thing. An’ that one thing was holy.”

Related Characters: Jim Casy (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Granma has asked Casy to say grace with the family before they can begin eating. Casy's rigorous Christian belief system has long since eroded, but even as he lacks a confidence in his own faith, he still finds the structures of the religion to be a reference point that gives him a way to process how he acts and what he does. As a result, Casy's grace is rambling and sometimes confusing. He draws on the famous Bible story of Jesus going into the wilderness to pray, and being tempted by demons, to help him explain his own struggles with temptation and his own distancing from society.

Once again, however, Casy attempts to turn to an alternative to the strict catechism of Christianity, one that emphasizes community and common humanity over personal striving. This sense of community is what Casy continues to think of as "holy," even if it has little to do with traditional Christian beliefs. It is ironic but also significant that Casy uses grace - a short ritual that for most people is just something to get through before a meal - as an opportunity for real spiritual questioning.

Chapter 12 Quotes

The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.

Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

For this chapter, the narrator has zoomed in on the experience of one migrant family in particular. A crooked salesman, knowing that they are desperate, tries to sell them a tire for an exorbitant price. After refusing and continuing to limp along with a broken trailer, the family finally enlists the help of another driver and manages to arrive to California. As a result, this family's experience is a typical reminder of the various ways that humans can treat each other, some of which include acting as though other people are simply instruments of one's own power and wealth. Other attitudes, though, value strangers as fellow travelers and fellow humans.

The narrator thus stresses that it is impossible to extract any one conclusion from the struggles of these migrant farmers, apart, perhaps, from the inherent complexity and inconsistency of humanity. Still, we also see in this passage that the families are desperate enough to leave behind the "terror" of their past life that they will cling to "beautiful" things more than "cruel" ones. The small examples of kindness and community will have to be enough to enable them to persevere on their journey.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“They's a time of change, an' when that comes, dyin' is a piece of all dyin', and bearin' is a piece of all bearin', an bearin' an' dyin' is two pieces of the same thing. An' then things ain't lonely any more. An' then a hurt don't hurt so bad, cause it ain't a lonely hurt no more, Rosasharn. I wisht I could tell you so you'd know, but I can't.”

Related Characters: Ma Joad (speaker), Rose of Sharon
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Granma seems to be losing her mind, as she starts speaking incoherently and imagining that her husband is there with her. Rose of Sharon is worried about her, and here Ma Joad attempts to reassure her. She does so by making an appeal to the larger forces that structure human life. Giving birth, bearing children, and dying are all part of the same process, she says, and it is impossible to have one without the other. Ma Joad takes solace in this vision of death, because it suggests that we are not alone - that what seems frightening, unknown, and lonely to us in fact fits into a broader meaning.

Ma Joad does seem to have developed her own beliefs about life and death beyond what her Christian heritage has taught her. Instead, she draws on all that she's learned regarding the ability for humans to come together in a community. This community might be fragile, but she continues to believe in it enough for it to structure her beliefs.

Chapter 28 Quotes

“But now I been thinkin' what he said, an' I can remember—all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an' he foun' he didn' have no soul that was his'n. Says he foun' he jus' got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain't no good, 'cause his little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn' think I was even listenin'. But I know now a fella ain't no good alone.”

Related Characters: Tom Joad (speaker), Jim Casy
Page Number: 418
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom's secret is out, and he will now have to flee the camp in order not to be caught and punished for his crime. As Ma Joad generously gives him much of her savings, they talk about what Tom will do next. The book has come a long way from its beginnings, with Jim Casy's rambling remarks on what he learned since deciding to leave his position as preacher, but it turns out that Casy's words have actually had an enormous impact on Tom - even though even Tom didn't realize that he was affected by them at the time.

Tom too is in search of a bigger, more meaningful community, and he is struck by the recollection that for Jim Casy, isolating oneself in the wilderness is actually no guarantee of goodness. Instead, Tom is convinced that he must try to work with others to enact change. Like Casy, Tom is developing an alternative to the official catechism of the Christian faith he was born with, attempting to understand how humans relate to one another and how they might better connect.

Chapter 29 Quotes

And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right—the break had not come; and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath.
Tiny points of grass came through the earth, and in a few days the hills were pale green with the beginning year.

Page Number: 435
Explanation and Analysis:

The beginning of The Grapes of Wrath had described a severe drought in Oklahoma that was devastating for the farms and those who worked on them. Now it is the opposite, a flood and not a drought, that strikes fear once again into the hearts of the women. And here, once again, their fears are assuaged by realizing that their husbands and fathers have chosen anger over fear: for them, this sentiment ensures that they will continue to act, rather than being broken and rendered passive by what has happened to them.

The end of this passage suggests that even the darkest times eventually give way to something better. The imagery has to do with the cyclical process of nature, but it also recalls the Biblical story of the great flood, which washed away human sin and allowed humanity to begin again. Perseverance, for these workers, does not mean that they will suddenly become successful or that their problems will be magically resolved, but there is some solace to be had in the knowledge that they will live to see even slightly better days.