I finished it 2 days ago and Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors so maybe I can bring some insight.
On my reading, I continuously looked for Biblical parallels which are very well known to be used in Steinbeck's novels. Events in the book include the flood, interactions between Ruthie and Winfield as Adam and Eve, Casy as a figure of Christ, and one thing that I found very cool was that it was the story of Exodus but in reverse (I can discuss more in depth if you're curious).
An overall theme of the novel is man going from 'I' to 'We'. How man becomes unified when he is more than one and that everything has a piece of the soul instead each man having his own soul. We as mankind need to lookout for one another because we are all connected. We all have a relationship to one another. Owning property only cements man into the idea that he is singular. The ending only reflects this idea Steinbeck is getting at. The Grapes of Wrath is a story of survival, and when times get tough, weaker men shirk their responsibilty to the 'Us'. They die, they abandon, or they are stuck in the past. I think Steinbeck wanted to bring in to question who we should take care of and he would argue that every man should take care of one another and that we should not withhold our possessions when we could save someone, even something as personal as breast milk. It's hard to imagine something you'd be less likely to share than your breast milk with an old stranger.
I hope this gives some insight and I'd love to hear some other thoughts on this, I've been wanting to discuss this book since I finished it as well.
Yay for the Grapes of Wrath. I'm currently studying it in university and just finished an essay on it.
Can you be more specific? Steinbecks editors actually wanted him to change the ending, to which he replied something along the lines of "no it must stay the same, they must be strangers". He was emotionally and creativelly exhausted after finishing the book. The ending is basically a reaffirmation of the goodness of man that is present throughout the novel. Sure there are so much evil things that happen throughout the book, but the novel ends on a note that humans ultimately have goodness within them. You could argue it is more proletariat goodness as the novel generally treats capitalism and aristocracy as evil.
The whole book illustrates how readily we dehumanize those whose only crime is falling upon hard times, and the moral superiority we assume as to justify our self-protecting (and ultimately inhumane) behavior during times of hardship.
That ending serves to show the essential humanity and selflessness people are capable of even when they have lost literally everything. I wrote a bit about that ending in this article:
"Stumbled upon out of context, the image might appear as something Steinbeck deliberately engineered to repulse; it’s only through having known the Joads personally and borne witness to their terrible journey that we can appreciate Rose of Sharon’s transcendence for what it is.
The threshold for helping our own neighbors, in our own community, remains comfortably – almost embarrassingly – low in comparison."
I read it about 20 years ago and it still haunts me to this day. I don’t think I have ever been left feeling so much despair after reading a book other than The Jungle. You definitely need to read something lighter when done with that book.
Why do I feel like the OP is trying to get us to do his homework?