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.
Faith and Guilt ThemeTracker
Faith and Guilt Quotes in The Grapes of Wrath
“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.’”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.