The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Go West, Young Man
The idea of going west has been a central part of the American consciousness for a loooong time. Remember Louis and Clark? Remember the Gold Rush? People have been heading west for years in search of fortune, opportunities, and warmer weather. California has always been a symbol of wealth and opportunity for much of American history: they don't call it the "Golden State" for nothing.
But this novel complicates that myth, showing instead the misery and desperation that fills California's fertile hills. Our narrator often describes the setting sun, offering specific description of the western sky. He says, "Only the unbalanced sky showed the approach of dawn, no horizon to the west, and a line to the east" (8.1), as though suggesting that the West represents the unknown, uncharted territory.
As nice as this image is, there's something a little unsettling about a horizonless horizon. And we find another jarring disquieting description of the western sky, as our narrator describes, "The stars went out, few by few, toward the west" (10.203).
It's as though the west is eating the stars for dinner, and devouring the only glimmers of light amidst the night sky. The Grapes of Wrath puts a new, dark spin on the American ideal of moving westward and seeking fortune.