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The Phalanx in Grapes of Wrath


Literary Elements
Symbolic and Allegorical
Moral and Anagogical

But he never said Phalanx...

Yes, he never said "phalanx" anywhere in the book, but he does indirectly. In chapter 3 we follow the endeavors of a land turtle trying to cross a street. A land turtle, otherwise known as a tortoise, brings to mind Caesar's Tortoise, also known as a Phalanx. The turtle's tribulations also convey the phalanx idea:

"As though they worked independently the hind legs pushed the shell against the wall. The head upraised and peered over the wall to the broad smooth plain of cement. Now the hands, braced on top of the wall, strained and lifted, and the shell came slowly up and rested its front end on the wall." (21)

The legs seem to work independently, yet they are cooperating for the same effort, for the same shell. Although each leg does its own specialized task, it is for the collective good. The shell itself is not a single unit but comprised of many smaller plates to create a bigger stronger shell.

The Greek Phalanx
Each soldier needs the Phalanx, and it needs each soldier

Why does this symbolize a phalanx? A Greek Phalanx is an infantry based army which uses long spears and shields. Each soldier carries a large shield to protect from arrows or other weapons. Yet one shield can not protect a single individual completely. That is why the individual soldiers
                 "Although each leg does its own specialized task, it is for the collective good."
group together to cover up holes. Now it is virtually impenetrable. BUT, if only one soldier moves, a gap is created and an arrow can enter, killing a soldier. This will create more gaps, and leave the phalanx even more vulnerable. The phalanx army is only strong, therefore, when the soldiers come together. Each soldier provides his ability to the group, and receives the protection of the group while still being an individual.

Many examples of Steinbeck's them can be found, yet they are better connected under the umbrella of this allusion.
Here are some of the examples (i had this part very in-depth and even sparkly before, but tripod had to raise hell and deleted it...not my fault...i try people, i try... so here's a basic skeleton):
biological example- from Sea of Cortez- describes jellyfish
- "There are colonies of pelagic tunicates which have taken a shape like the fingers of a glove. Each member of the colony is an individual animal, but the colony is another individual animal, not at all like the sum of its individuals."
- the jellyfish group together to create a more protected and efficient being, each individual providing its aid to the whole and receiving aid from the whole. just tell me that's not phalanx-ish
another biological example- from p. 206
- "Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. 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.'"
-anlage is a cluster of cells. Each cell springs forth from the anlage, and each cell makes the anlage bigger.
-the "I" and the "you" change to "we"
-phalanx? duh...
-philosophical example-from Ecclesiastes - alluded to by Tom on page 570
- "Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him, and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken."
-this has all the phalanxy stuff that we discussed so far (individuals provide for group and group provides for individual), but brings in another side - the strength of the group compared to the individual
those were the biggies, the next few are smaller but interesting:
-from title and Battle Hymn of the Republic:
- "Grapes" - sweet little round fruit
-but did you know??? they come in bunches! a grape is one of the few fruits that comes in a cute little bunch.
-although each grape is clearly independent of that bunch to our taste buds, it constitutes a part of the whole, redefining the image of "grapes"
-this ones kinda funny, and Steinbeck uses it three times, so it has to mean something:
-stupid deputy gets angry at people in Hooverville- shoots his gun with very bad aim: "A woman in front of a tent screamed and then looked at a hand which had no knuckles. The fingers hung on strings against her palm, and the torn flesh was white and bloodless."
-did you know??? you need fingers to make a strong fist, and each finger is made of small bones called "phalanges!"
-oh but did you know,  phalanges is plural for phalanx?? if not, check out the vocab section...
-a fist is only strong when all the phalanges can come together, without them it's weak and powerless, not to mention useless.

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