The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
There may not be iPods, pianos, or rock bands in this novel, but there is certainly a lot of music. The used cars that carry thousands of migrant workers to California have an unusual and unique music. Those who drive these cars learn to listen intently for their rhythms and melodies. One family listens as "the high hum of the motor dulled and the song of the tires dropped in pitch" (2.64). Learning to listen to the car's music becomes a means of survival. Our narrator describes the panic and anxiety that comes from driving a used car across the country:
Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of our hand on the gear-shift level; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses, for a change of tone, a variation of rhythm may mean – a week here? (12.6)
Making music is one of the most natural things for humans to do. We've been making music for thousands and thousands of years. So, whenever we hear music or whenever music is present, we know humans are tapping into their ancient abilities and desires. We know that their celebrating or mourning, we know that they are expressing themselves in some way. What does it mean, then, that Tom Joad makes and hears more music in prison than he does when he is a free man? He tells the preacher, "me an' some guys had a strang band goin'. Good one. Guy said we ought to go on the radio" (4.68). What other examples of music do you detect in this novel?