In John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, symbolism holds a very crucial part in telling the story. Throughout the novel, many symbols are used, the most apparent of which are that of a turtle, grapes, various symbols from the bible, and a cat. The turtle is used by the author to represent hope for the novel's central characters. Grapes are used as metaphors for the anger and bitterness of the migrant families (including the Joads who are the novel's central family) that are forced to leave their land and homes. Steinbeck uses a number of symbols in the telling of his story which parallel stories from the bible. Some of the biblical symbols he uses are in his characters which have qualities similar to people from the bible, and in parts of the Joad family s travels. The tractors (cats) that plow over the farmers' land and the actual animal are used a few times in the novel to represent the merciless banks. The symbols in The Grapes of Wrath help explain the themes of the novel.
The turtle is used to represent hope for the trip West. Steinbeck describes the turtle as struggling to cross a concrete highway and it almost gets across a truck hits it, flipping it over onto its back. The turtle fights to get back on its feet and eventually continues on its journey. The animal also faced obstacles such as a red ant which crawled on it and Tom Joad who captured it. This metaphor of the turtle's struggles is used to represents the efforts of the Joads throughout the story since the Joads meet many obstacles just as the turtle has. For instance, they are forced off of their farm, lose family members, and are faced with having to find money, food, and shelter. Like the turtle, the Joads don't give up and continue on with their journey despite such troubles. Everything the turtle encounters tries to stop it from reaching its destination; the same can be said about the Joad family. Also, the turtle just happens to be traveling in the same direction as the migrants, showing that the animal is a symbolic representation of the hope and determination of the migrants.