Many novels written contain parallels to the Bible. This couldn’t be truer in the case John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck alludes to Biblical characters and events with the use of Rose of Sharon, Jim Casy, and also the Joad’s journey to California. There are other events in the book that parallel the Bible, although the portrayal of Rose of Sharon and Jim Casy are the most obvious.
The novel is broken into 3 different parts, the time spent in Oklahoma, the journey on the road, and the time spent in California. Each section is closely related to the three stages of the Biblical Exodus: the Israelites’ time in bondage when God sent plagues to free them (chapters 1-11), the forty years of wandering in the desert (chapters 12-18), and the arrival in Canaan, the Promised Land (chapters 19-30). The plagues sent by God are
paralleled by the drought in Oklahoma, the Egyptian oppressors by the bank officials, and the hostile Canaanites by the Californians (Monkeynotes , The Grapes…).
Rose of Sharon is a character that is most directly related to the Bible. Her name in found in the Song of Solomon, “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys” (Ganticles, 7:7). Most of Rose of Sharon’s parallels to the Bible take place in the last chapter of the novel. After the birth of her stillborn baby she nourishes a starving man with her milk. This is symbolic of the giving of her body, much like Jesus did at the Last Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (Luke 22: 20). Also when Uncle John puts Rose of Sharon’s stillborn child in an apple crate and floats it downstream, “Go down and tell em” (Steinbeck, 571-72), it alludes to the journey that baby Moses made.
The Joad family is made up of 12 people, including Connie, and Casy as the 13th person in the journey. This can be seen as a reference to Jesus and his 12 disciples. Connie represents Judas, the traitor that turns against Jesus and the rest of his disciples. In chapter 20 Connie expresses his regret of taking the journey to California to Rose of Sharon and eventually leaves, “If I’d knowed it would be like this I wouldn’ of came” (Steinbeck, 343).
Jim Casy has to be one of the most obvious references to the Bible. His character is meant to parallel Jesus. They both have the same initials, J.C., and Casy prided himself on finding out what was wrong and right just as Jesus did with preaching the difference between good and evil. In chapter 20 Casy gives himself up and gets arrested to save Tom. This action portrays Casy as a symbol of Christ. While in prison he finds his calling as a voice for the migrant farm workers. He is ultimately crucified for his actions in chapter 26. Casy says to his murders ” ‘You don’t know what you’re a-doin!’ ” (Steinbeck, 527) which parallels Jesus’ words when he is being crucified, ” ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’ ” (Luke, 23:34). Shortly after Casy’s death Tom decides to take up Casy’s cause of improving living conditions for the migrant farm workers, ” 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’ ” (Steinbeck, 572). This is much like Jesus’ disciples fulfilling his teachings ever after his death.
Many of the themes and ideas of Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath are Biblically inspired. He is able to allude to Biblical characters and events through Rose of Sharon, Jim Casy, and the family’s journey to California.