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Imagery in the Grapes of Wrath

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In John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, we see Rose of Sharon Rivers Joad go from a bright, optimistic girl at the beginning of the novel turns into a mature but broken woman towards the end due to her losing her husband Connie, their child, and her American Dream not being as realistic as she thought.

Rose of Sharon dreams of the possibilities of her new life in California with her husband Connie and their baby on the way. In chapter 16 page 164-164 Rose of Sharon talks to her mother over her dream, “‘Ma, we wanna live in a town… Connie gonna get a job in a store or maybe a fact’ry. An’ he’s gonna study at home, maybe radio, so he can git to be an expert an’ maybe later have his own store. An’ we’ll go to pitchers whenever. An’ Connie says I’m gonna have a doctor when the baby’s born… An’ we’ll have a car, little car. An’ after he studies at night, why— it’ll be nice…. An’ we’ll live in town… the baby’ll have all new stuff….’” (Steinbeck 164-165). In the pursuit of her dreams, she loses Connie. Connie decides he can not go on traveling to California with the Joads so he decides to leave Rose of Sharon. “…Rose of Sharon demanded, ‘You see Connie?’ ‘Yeah,’ said Al, ‘Way to hell an’ gone up the river. He’s goin’ South.’… Ma turned on the girl. ‘Rosesharn, you been talkin’ an’ actin’ funny. What’d Connie say to you?’ Rose of Sharon said sullenly, ‘Said it would a been a good thing if he stayed home an’ studied up tractors.’” (Steinbeck, 272). She does not know what she will do without him so she keeps on trying to stay strong now realizing she is going to be a single mother. However, by the end of the book, she gives birth to her stillborn child during a flood.

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Rose of Sharon thinks that everything that happened to her is because of the baby. She starts to lose hope and doubt her dream. Throughout the book, we see her reluctantly helping the family with cooking, cleaning and other household chores. At the beginning of the book, she is irritable with a sense of self-importance which does not help her overcome misfortune. In the beginning, she relies a lot on her family and uses her pregnancy as some sort of advantage so she would not need to do as much. Rose of Sharon turns out to be a strong-willed character by the end of the novel due to the fact of her many loses and tribulations. One can see how much she has changed through her character arc at the end of the book when she goes to the berry vines and lies down for a while feeling everything. “Once on the ground, she moved slowly toward the stream and the trail that went beside it. She took the way Ma had gone earlier– into the willows. The wind blew more steadily now, and the bushes whished steadily. Rose of Sharon went down on her knees and crawled deep into the brush. The berry vines cut her face and pulled at her hair, but she didn’t mind. Only when she felt the bushes touching her all over did she stoop. She stretched out on her back. And she felt the weight of the baby inside her.” (Steinbeck, 425) She does this after hearing that her brother Al and a young girl named Aggie Wainwright were going to get married. All the commotion reminds her of Connie and how much she misses when they were together.

Rose of Sharon had her dream changed just like everyone else in the novel. She lost hope and we see that hope she had in the begging start to crumble when the family needs to leave Oaklahoma, her grandparents die, Connie leaves, they run out of basic necessities, and finally when her child is stillborn. By the end we see her start to regain her hope but we do not know what her new dream is.

By the end of Steinbeck’s novel, Rose of Sharon did not achieve her “American Dream.” She is forced into independence from the beginning to the end of her journey. However, she regains hope when she breastfeeds a half-starved man since she was not able to feed her own child. “For a minute Rose of Sharon sat still in the whispering barn. Then she hoised her tired body up and drew the comfort about her. She moved slowly to the corner and stood looking down at the wasted face, into the wide frightened eyes. Then slowly she lay down beside him. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. ‘You got to,’ she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. ‘There!’ she said. ‘There’ Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.” (Steinbeck, 455)

A man’s need to dream is needed because people want to have the best life they can have. Everyone dreams of having a nice home, job, life, family essentially to live life pleasantly. They want to be able to fulfill all their necessities. If they do not have a dream, they will not have a motive to go after. One might argue, however, that dreams are not necessary because in most cases they do not fulfill them. Yes, it is nice to dream about everything one might want, but in the end, not much of it comes true depending on what one puts in when making the effort. A man’s need to keep his/her dream alive is important because if they do not have any goals in life they would become a very unsuccessful person. It is also important to keep the dream alive because it also keeps the person alive. Alive meaning when one gets up in the morning without complaints and looks forward to their day because what matters is they are one day closer to accomplishing their dream.

Rose of Sharon would have Langston Hughes’s poem “Dreams” in her pocket as an inspiration to live her dream because she went through her all the grief of her family and realizing her dream was not realistic. When the poem states “Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken-winged bird/ That cannot fly.” it relates to her situation when Connie leaves because at that time she was naive and she had her whole life planned around him. She never thought that Connie would get up and just leave her fending for herself. “Hold fast to dreams/ For when dreams go/ Life is a barren field/ Frozen with snow.” is another very important segment of Rose of Sharon’s story because the baby was all she had left of her dream after Connie left. Once she gave birth and found out her child was stillborn, she felt as though her world had been shattered and as if she was “frozen with snow”.

At the beginning of John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” we see a bright, optimistic, hopeful and naive young girl named Rose of Sharon. Rose of Sharon is a dreamer who wants to live the stereotypical American Dream everyone has had. Throughout the novel we see her go from her bright self to a mature but broken woman due to her losing Connie, her baby, and realizing her dream was unrealistic. Near the end of the book, we see her start to regain her dream because while she lost a life she helped save one.  

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