The main theme of The Grapes of Wrath is the idea that all men are part of the family of man. This is closely related to the philosophical movement of transcendentalism, what the author Ralph Waldo Emerson followed. There are four main points of the story that express this in the story; the ex-preacher’s search for purpose, Ma Joad’s understanding of working together, Pa turning from making money for himself to providing for the group and finally Tom’s decision to leave the family.
First the preacher, Casy, displays the point that transcendentalists think we all need to find out our purpose in life. When he is first introduced, he can be recognized as the old preacher, but we soon find out that he abandoned that career. He states that the Oakies “need help no preachin’ can give ‘em.” It can be inferred that he no longer sees his purpose in life as a preacher and is in search for something new to do.
Next, is Ma Joad’s understanding that the family must work together and stay together in order to get through the tough times.
This connects the theme to transcendentalism because transcendentalists believe in setting your principals and following them at any cost. When the children crowd around for food, instead of giving the family the rest of the food, she shares it with them because she knows it’s the right thing to do. When Pa Joad is first seen, he is talking about becoming a picker, getting wealthy and having tons of grapes to gorge on, all to himself.
Once the family gets on the road though, he realizes that there is a much greater need to provide for the family and get to where there are jobs. Transcendentalists would agree that we all play a role in life, and we are all should work together, because we all are in the family of men.
Pa Joad’s actions follow that principle. Lastly, Tom decides that it is best if he leaves the family. Ma expresses her concern that she won’t know if he is doing well or not. His reply tells us that he believes in the oversoul, because she will see him in everything, because they all are part of one greater existence, such as an oversoul. He also sees this action as something he must do, and doing what you believe in is very important to the oversoul idea. Ralph Emerson clearly displayed his ideas and beliefs in his writing in hopes to create a positive movement. With the use of the preacher, Ma, Pa and Tom, he clearly expressed his opinions. This is why it is easy for one to infer that the theme of the book, and the oversoul described in this work are closely related.