The Grapes of Wrath Analysis

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The Grapes of Wrath, describes the difficulty of migrant labors during the Great Depression. Written by, John Steinbeck, this novel went on to receive many awards. Generally viewed as Steinbeck's best and most striving novel, The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939. Stating the story of an expelled Oklahoma family and their fight to form a reestablished life in California at the peak of the Great Depression, the book captures the sorrow and anguish of the land throughout this time-period. The bank forecloses on the Joads land, so they decide to move west in search of new jobs. Though the Joads travel west in expectations of creating a restored life, the American Dream avoids them, their journey to California proves to be sorrowful and disappointing. Though they find some comfort in a camp and eventually get jobs, the life they dream of has only slipped further away. The parallels between John Steinbeck's life and the narrative story he carved are apparent and distinct. Steinbeck used imagery to paint a picture of current world situations that were going on in his life during the 1930's. His goal in writing this novel was to paint a picture and make his readers experience the life of the Dust Bowl immigrants. Though not a Dust Bowl immigrant himself, he spent a lot of time with them and got to know their anguish well. From the first chapters, to the unforgettable ending, The Grapes of Wrath remains a debated work in critical discussions, with themes and a setting that are uniquely American

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Beginning to write the novel in the mid to late 1930's, Steinbeck was surrounded by poverty, and hardship, and as are the Joads in the novel. Steinbeck modeled the setting to represent how things really were for migrant workers during this period. The Grapes of Wrath takes place during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s. After being released from jail, protagonist, Tom Joad, quickly realizes that his family's farm has been repossessed by the bank. Tom finds the family at Uncle John's home as they get ready for a long journey to California in search of work, a journey numerous desperate families are also taking. Route 66 provides the transportation by which the migrants will arrive to California. It is "the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership,. from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there" (Steinbeck 118).In California, "there was a Hooverville on the edge of every town," where migrant individuals camp all together and care for one another (Steinbeck 234). The Joads experience the surroundings of a Hooverville when they cross the desert into California, "There was no order in the camp; little gray tents, shacks, cars were scattered about at random" (241).

"Steinbeck was inspired to write the novel after researching and producing a series of articles for the San Francisco News about migrant workers in California" (Conder 248). Throughout the 1930s, due to drought and years of agriculture without crop rotation or other destruction prevention, severe dust storms blew away the lives of many in many areas of the central plains, which developed into what is known as the, "Dust Bowl". Tied with the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression, this crisis forced thousands of people, many of them agriculturalists, off their property, wandering from place to place in hunt of work to survive. Several of these people, attracted by promises of opportunity, moved to California. Although they were from several states, "'the term 'Okie' - coined for a native of Oklahoma, one of the hardest-hit areas - was attached to the waves of families desperately heading West, their few remaining possessions piled high on old, barely operating vehicles. Those who made it to California found little work, poor living conditions, a great deal of resentment and prejudice, and even violence directed against them."(The Grapes of Wrath)

John Steinbeck formed a fictional plot using current realities of the Dust Bowl. The exposition begins when Tom gets out of jail for good behavior and he realizes that everything he left was now different and his family is absent as well. The conflict arises when, Tom is out on parole, and he strictly cannot leave Oklahoma. However, his family is planning to move to California, where a government program offers a beautiful future for emigrant sharecroppers. The entire family and Casy, a longtime family friend, fit into a small truck to travel across the country. The rising action occurs when, the Joads set off for California, where many others are migrating west. As the Joads drive on, they begin to hear rumors that there aren't enough jobs in California. The climax is revealed when they arrive in California. As they go from place to place, searching for work, Casy, former reverend and current friend of Toms, leads a strike against the owners of Weedpatch, which in conclusion costs him his life. Tom spurs to lead the people, but the Joads must leave again when Tom thoughtlessly kills the corrupt policeman who murdered Casy. The falling action is seen when the Joads move onto a cotton-picking field where Tom hides out until his wounds are healed from the conflict. The resolution occurs when the Joads come to a farm where they find a barn. Inside the barn, they find a young boy and a man. They are sick from starving, and the man is not able to eat solid foods anymore without getting ill. Rose of Sharon gives the fading man her breast, which has milk from her recent birth, and comforts him with a blanket. They are all strangely at peace.

The push for writing The Grapes of Wrath came out of John Steinbeck's involvement of studying and publishing Harvest Gypsies, "a seven-part San Francisco News series about the plight of agricultural migrant workers in California" (Steinbeck's Use). While leading that research, Steinbeck met and traveled with a man named Tom Collins, the manager of the "Arvin Migrant Camp (informally known as "Weedpatch Camp)" (Steinbeck's Use). The relationship Steinbeck formed with Collins grew between 1936 and 1938, when the two began traveling over the San Joaquin valley to gather information and offer aid to migrant families in crisis. "He wrote about the Okie exodus by the seat of his pants, as it happened" (O'Connell 60). "The Associated Farmers of California terminated the book as a "pack of lies" and "communist propaganda'" (The Grapes of Wrath). Steinbeck was put under surveillance of the FBI and received many death threats. The book was banned in many libraries and copies were burned in towns across The United States (Conder 248).

" Steinbeck's speech, is found in Tom Joad, the novel's protagonist." ( McCarthy) Tom Joad is the novels protagonist .Joad is first seen coming home to Oklahoma after jail time for killing a man in a brawl, only to find an overcome land with local farms being repossessed by the banks. Tom and his family begin on their trek to California over highway 66. "Tom Joad, Steinbeck's figure of smoldering witness, the passive observer turned violent activist and communitarian conscience, has been grabbed by figures right and left to stand for something, represent something, or, in recent vintage, to represent nothing at all, rendered void of the political meaning deliberately invested in him by John Steinbeck (and others)" (Simon and Deverell 181). Through Tom Joad, Steinbeck builds anger and a sense of injustice over the migrant's misery. (McCarthy)

Rose of Sharon is always watching out for the greatest interests of her unborn child and its seems to symbolize motherly instinct and protection. "Steinbeck departs from strictly Biblical imagery in portraying Rose of Sharon as an 'earth mother'. " (Rombold 161). Her natural protective nature over her baby, makes it even more heartrending when it is delivered as a stillborn. "By letting the stillborn child go upon the waters in its apple box, Uncle John inverts the story of baby Moses let go in a basket upon the Nile" (Rombold 160). "The symbolism of the earth mother is also a strong context within which to understand the final scene" (Rombold 162). Steinbeck ends the novel by having Rose of Sharon nurse a dying man from her breast. "Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously" (Steinbeck 455). A symbol of hope is understood through Rose of Sharon's fostering actions in reviving the starving man. "By ending the novel this way, Steinbeck continues his literary references to the Bible as it provides symbolic resurrection of humanity and steps towards societies regrowth" ( Taliawaite).

Jim Casy is an ex-preacher who knew the Joads as far back as Tom's childhood, claims that he has totally given up preaching "I ain't preachin no more. " (Steinbeck 20). Casy now places his faith in the astonishing power of human spirit. Steinbeck is representing Casey as a parallel to Jesus as his character carries optimism to the people that are in misery (Taliawaite). A more literal similarity that Steinbeck indicates to is his name, Jim Casey, which fatefully, has the same initials as Jesus Christ. "I ain't sayin' I'm like Jesus. But I got tired like Him, an' I got mixed up like Him, an' I went into the wilderness like Him. " (Steinbeck 81). Although he still did not believe himself to be a preacher, he had the courage to stand up to the corruption and the unfairness. Casey planned on leading the people in a strike that would help the laborers attain reasonable wages however he gets murdered during the objection. "The preacher, on'y he was a-leadin' the strike. They come for him. They killed 'im. Busted his head" (Steinbeck 390). Like Jesus who sacrificed himself on the cross, Casey's death is a sacrifice for the wellbeing of others. Casey's last words were "You don' know what you're a-doin" (Steinbeck 386) which can be paralleled to Jesus last words. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:24)" (Rombold 157). Casey dies with honor and self-respect, as Jesus did.

"John Steinbeck says that in growing up he 'absorbed' the Bible through his skin" (Rombold 146). Characters from the book mimic real life people suffering through the Depression. They had a reason to believe that there was a higher power watching over them during this time of hardship (Rombold 146). While Steinbeck used Biblical references, he chooses to keep God as an absent character, "For Steinbeck, the people themselves are the agents of change and the parties responsible for action. His use of Biblical allusions which generalize and deepen the Joad's experience within the tradition of the mythos, place this novel within a very broad context." (Rombold 147). Readers were shocked by the notion of neglecting God, but they had to consider the source, and learned to accept that it was Steinbeck's (Rombold146).

Land and place are so more than just passive settings in The Grapes of Wrath. A man's connection to land is a very important theme, "Man's love of the land, his need not so much to own it as to embrace it, to sink his hands and feet in it, to cry for joy when the corn is peeking through and to sleep like a dead man when the last load is in the silo- this is the strongest force in the book" (O'Connell 59). Despite the ruggedness of the landscape, it develops the backdrop in contradiction of a wide range of human concern. Famers and country men had a very strong relationship to the property they grew to know. When they lose their land, the Joads not only lose their means of support, but they also lose their home. California is supposed to be a land flowing with milk and honey, a place of chance and change(McCarthy). For a farmer, land is opportunity, and therefore land is money. "The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck endorses the philosophy that economic, legal, religious, and societal forces largely control individual destiny, but lays out a philosophy to rise above those forces and achieve personal freedom" (Conder 260).

The American dream is unattainable to immigrants. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck often challenges whether or not California is the, "promise land". He questioned if the whole thing of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are achievable. For so many, the American Dream is a capitalist dream. Instead, Steinbeck, through his characters and themes, sought the dream of unity and compassion. Through Jim Casy and Tom Joad, it is seen that their passion lays in standing up for what is right, rather than sitting back and taking the hit. But that wasn't always the case for them, towards the beginning of the novel, all of them were eager to reach this so called, promise land. But eventually, they came to the realization that they were indeed just chasing an unrealistic dream. The Joad family is leading down "something of a problematic golden road- a path of escape from destitution to an ambiguous Californian deliverance. when the only option becomes putting the family on the road to a strange and unknown destination, problems are compounded" (Spangler). The Joads' persistent letdown to find supportive work and pay led to economic decay, lessening the likelihood that the American Dream would come to completion. Arthur G. Neal stated, "[the] economic hardships after the Great Depression fell disproportionately on the family unit" (Spangler). Throughout all the economic struggle and failures on finding the American Dream, the Joads managed to stick together through the triumph. John Steinbeck emphasized the theme of the unattainable American Dream; however, he added in that maybe people can achieve their own dream just by sticking together and never giving up.

From the Joad family leaving Oklahoma, to the struggles in California, The Grapes of Wrath remains a moving and an extremely well written piece of art. The plot, setting, and characters are very expressive, and Steinbeck's fascinating writing techniques give the themes of the book a distinct feel. The parallels between John Steinbeck's life and the narrative story he carved are apparent and distinct. Throughout the 1930's, real people with real problems faced issues like what the Joad faced. John Steinbeck wrote a brilliant piece work in expressing the economic and emotional anguish the "Oakies" experienced.


February 27,1902- John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California. He was the third of four children and the only son of John Ernst II and Olive Hamilton Steinbeck. He spent his childhood in the Salinas Valley (John Steinbeck).

1919- Steinbeck attended classes at Stanford University, and left without a degree. "During these years Steinbeck dropped out for several months, and was employed intermittently as a sales clerk, farm laborer, ranch hand, and factory worker" (John Steinbeck).

January 14,1930- John Steinbeck marries Carol Henning (John Steinbeck).

Winter of 1934- He gathered information on farm labor unions. Interviews labor organizer in Seaside(John Steinbeck).

April 1939- The Grapes of Wrath, was published by Viking (John Steinbeck).

Spring of 1941- He separated from Carol; fall, later he moves to New York City with singer Gwyndolyn Conger (John Steinbeck).

1943- He marries Gwyn Conger in New Orleans (John Steinbeck).

August 2, 1944- birth of first son, Thom (John Steinbeck).

June 12, 1946 - birth of second son, John IV (John Steinbeck).

September 14, 1964- presented with United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Steinbeck).

December 20, 1968- dies of arteriosclerosis in New York (John Steinbeck).

Work Cited

Conder, J John. "Grapes of Wrath." Literary Themes for Students, Vol. 1, edited by Anne Marie Hacht, 2007, pp. 248-263.

"John Steinbeck: A Brief Chronology." Monterey County Historical Society, Local History Pages, Montrerey Country Historical Society , 2010, Date accessed 8 January, 2017.

McCarthy, Paul. "John Steinbeck." Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Sharon R. Gunton, vol. 21, Gale, 1982. Literature Resource Center, Originally published in John Steinbeck, by Paul McCarthy, Ungar, 1980. Date accessed 9 Nov, 2016.

O'Connel, Mike. "An American Farmer Looks at The Grapes of Wrath." The Steinbeck Review, vol. 6, no. 2, 2009, pp. 56-63. Date accessed November 14, 2016.

Rombold, Tamara. "Biblical Inversion in The Grapes of Wrath." College Literature, vol. 14, no. 2, 1987, pp. 146-166. . Date accessed November 19, 2016.

Simon, Bryant, and William Deverell. "Come Back, Tom Joad: Thoughts on a California Dreamer." California History, vol. 79, no. 4, 2000, pp. 180-191. Date accessed November 10, 2016

Spangler, Jason. "We'Re on a Road to Nowhere: Steinbeck, Kerouac, and the Legacy of the Great Depression." Studies in the Novel, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 19 Feb. 2009, Accessed 14 Feb. 2017.

"Steinbeck's Use of Nonfiction Sources in 'The Grapes of Wrath' | EDSITEment." EDSITEment! The Best of the Humanities on the Web, 17 Sept. 2012, Date accessed 16 January, 2017.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York, NY, Penguin Group, 2006.

Taliawaite. "A Look at Biblical Allusions." The Angry Grapes, 1 Dec. 2012, Date accessed 5 December, 2016.

"The Grapes of Wrath: 10 Surprising Facts about John Steinbeck's Novel ." The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, Date accessed 10 December, 2016.


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