One method by which an author is able to convey abstract concepts to a reader is through what is known as
an allegory. A concrete situation is used to represent the ideas that the author is trying to impress upon the reader. One
way that Steinbeck advocates cooperation in his novel The Grapes of Wrath is through the allegory of Weedpatch, a government
camp in California.
As is discussed of the "Communism" link of this website, Karl Marx intended to purify democracy by implementing
a communist society. He believed that the cooperation between people in a communist setting would give them the freedom to
truly exercise their democratic freedom; they were not bound to being a poor farmer by the capitalist system, but had a choice
as to how they would use their specific talents to benefit society. Marx believed that by doing so, the quality of life would
increase. He was a believer in both democracy, efficiency through cooperation, and technology. All of these ideals are reflect
in Steinbeck’s brainchild, Weedpatch.
Run by a series of committees established by the Okies in residence there, the Weedpatch camp is the epitome
of democracy. Members of the camp elect committee members from among their own people to act as the camp’s government.
Jessie, says to Ma, "’Lected unanimous," in terms of her position as head of the central committee. While it cannot
truly be deemed socialist or capitalist as there is little industry, it is an example of communal living. Intended to preserve
the dignity of the Okies, charity was forbidden. But, as per the ideals of communal living, camp funds are loaned to those
in need so that they can get by. Toilet paper is also bought with money collected from the entire camp and is available for
all to use. Through communal living, the Okies gain the freedom they need to truly exercise their democratic rights, such
as electing their own government within the Weedpatch camp. This coincides with Marx’s belief that only through communism
could the people truly be free to enjoy their democratic rights.
One quotation of special importance is as follows: "For here ‘I lost my land’ is changed; a cell
is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate-‘We lost our land,’" (206). This quote symbolizes the
transition from struggling, unorganized individuals to a powerful collective body. While not strictly a communist ideal, the
ideal of cooperation does evolve into the implementation of communal living. This phrase embodies the general theme of the
novel; by uninviting against oppression and cooperating with one another, the influence of the common man greatly increases.
One of the most illustrious examples of symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath is the phalanx, or land tortoise.
The phalanx, or shell, is composed of multiple interlocking plates that give it its strength. In this way it represents the
Joad family, which remains strong only as they stick together; they each have their own skill to contribute and without any
of them the family would fall. Tom says of a turtle he releases early in the novel, "I seen turtles all my life. They’re
always goin’ someplace. They always seem to want to get there," (60). Earlier in the story, during chapter three, the
turtle is intent on crossing a highway, regardless of the obstacles that stand in his way or hope to crush him (like the driver
who swerves to hit him). In this respect the turtle also represents the Joad family. They too have a destination, which they
will stop at nothing to reach. In their case it is California. Because the image of the tortoise and the phalanx represent
the Joads in both intent and structure, it is beyond doubt that this symoblism is no accident.