The novel often focuses on characters who resist in situations that seem hopeless. At the beginning of the novel, the Oklahoma sharecropper families are rendered powerless by the repossessing landowners. All the same, Muley Graves remains on his land, in spite of regular run-ins with law enforcement. He knows he can’t change his circumstances, but he refuses to let go of his heritage. The land turtle that appears in an early chapter, is a metaphor for the Okies’ helplessness, endurance, and courage: it presses forward as humans treat it with both kindness and cruelty and even manages to right itself when a car flips it over. Similarly, the Joads refuse to abandon their journey westward even when the obstacles they face seem insurmountable. Tom and Casy rebel against a corrupt industrial and political system even though it costs Casy his life and forces Tom into hiding.
These individual struggles symbolize the spirit of the Okie community as a whole. At their most desperate and most powerless moments, the Okies rarely seem to lose their drive to work. Some strive to subvert the larger institutions that keep them down, like the law, the banks, and the farm owners—even when these institutions seem far too powerful to overcome.
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance ThemeTracker
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Quotes in The Grapes of Wrath
Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.
“…sometimes a guy'll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.”
“If on’y they didn’t tell me I got to get off, why, I’d prob’y be in California right now a-eatin’ grapes an’ a-pickin’ an orange when I wanted. But them sons-a-bitches says I got to get off—an’, Jesus Christ, a man can’t, when he’s tol’ to!”
To California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness. And some day—the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and there'll be a dead terror from it.
And now they [the Joads] were weary and frightened because they had gone against a system they did not understand and it had beaten them.
“It ain't kin we? It's will we?” …As far as ‘kin,’ we can’t do nothin’, not go to California or nothin’; but as far as ‘will,’ why, we’ll do what we will. An’ as far as ‘will’—it’s a long time our folks been here and east before, an' I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked. They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean.”
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.
Fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.
Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other…the danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one.
“It don't make no sense. This fella wants eight hundred men. So he prints up five thousand of them things an' maybe twenty thousan' people sees 'em. An' maybe two-three thousan' folks gets movin' account a this here han'bill. Folks that's crazy with worry.”
And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.
“Well, when the cops come in, an’ they come in all a time, that’s how you wanta be. Dumb—don’t know nothin’. Don’t understan’ nothin’. That’s how cops like us…be bull-simple.”
The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line.
“We ain’t never had no trouble with the law. I guess the big farmers is scairt of that. Can’t throw us in jail—why, it scares ‘em. Figger maybe if we can gove’n ourselves, maybe we’ll do other things.”
“Well, sir, Hines says, 'A red is any son-of-a-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when we're payin' twenty-five!' Well, this young fella he thinks about her, an' he scratches his head, an' he says, 'Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I ain't a son-of-a- bitch, but if that's what a red is—why, I want thirty cents an hour. Ever'body does. Hell, Mr. Hines, we're all reds.'”
“They're gettin' purty mean out here. Burned that camp an' beat up folks. I been thinkin'. All our folks got guns. I been thinkin' maybe we ought to get up a turkey shootin' club an' have meetin's ever' Sunday.”
The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quick-lime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
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.
“Go down an' tell 'em. Go down in the street an' rot an' tell 'em that way. That's the way you can talk. Don' even know if you was a boy or a girl. Ain't gonna find out. Go on down now, an' lay in the street. Maybe they'll know then.”