Faith in the 1930's, as far as the population was concerned, did not exist.
“This you may say of man – when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious
, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes
” (Steinbeck 150). The time of the Great Depression damaged lives inconceivably. Most people felt so far from normalcy that the ground underneath them seemed to be unreliable. These people were “hungry for security and yet sens[ed] its disappearance from the earth” (Steinbeck 155). What ultimately left the nation during the 1930’s was faith: faith in the land, faith within the people, and most importantly, faith within the church.
The whole country was a mess. Inevitably, the church went into the gutter with the people. “The sperit [wasn’t] in the people much” (Steinbeck 20). But not only that, everything seemed to have its own kind of spirit drained out of it. Cars were literally “limping along 66 like wounded things, panting and struggling” (Steinbeck 122). Faith in life diminished. People’s cars started to simply fall apart, piece-by-piece
, and finding a new part became a nightmare with the cars salesmen who had lost all faith in their businesses, too. Houses became deserted and dilapidated, due to the “monster” that was ordered to shove them onto their sides. It became hard to believe in anything.
But the flame was still ignited in some people. Churches may have been small
, even by today’s standards, but there were definitely people out there who “had the Sperit in ‘em.” Reverend Casy, a crucial character in the book, is one of these people. Upon meeting him, Casy seemed to be a lost preacher, who didn’t “have the call no more” (Steinbeck 20). But by saying “no more,” he implies that he had the call at one point in time, before the devastation fell upon the country. He corroborates this fact by reminiscing about Tom Joad’s baptism in the irrigation ditch, and how he was “fightin’ an’ yellin’” during the whole ceremony (Steinbeck 20). You can also tell that there was once a flame of religion lit in the people of Joad’s area once we are introduced to his grandmother. She insists on “grace fust” (before breakfast) once Joad and Reverend Casy get to Uncle John’s house in the early morning-time (Steinbeck 80). For this reason, Casy knows that people will need him: He had a feeling that these people were going to need help no other preacher could give them. “Hope of heaven when their lives ain’t lived? Holy Sperit when their own sperit is downcast an’ sad? They gonna need help. They got to live before they can afford to die” (Steinbeck 52). And thus, Reverend Casy transformed into a kind, compassionate, and soft man that became part of the Joad family from that point onward.
But we still see signs of the apocalypse of religious trust. People do not count on bread at service stations; they have no faith. The particular lack of reliance on God is shown twice; first when Ma cannot account for her life in California; when she refuses to believe in anything positive. It also happens toward the end of chapter 16, when a stranger tells the Joads and Wilsons that his wife and two children died on their journey to California. Immediately, Tom and Pa demand if that will be the case for them. But Reverend Casy, the spark and hope, the positive force behind this traveling family, and ultimately the fighting cause against the death of faith, replies simply “That was the truth for him (the stranger), and encourages the pack to keep moving onward, that they may have a different experience than this particular stranger did” (Steinbeck 191). But to move on, “where does the courage come from? Where does the terrible faith come from” (Steinbeck 122)?