Study Guided Prepared by
Michael J. Cummings...© 2008
Type of Work, Date of Publication, and
The Grapes of Wrath is
a realistic novel depicting the grim struggle of
impoverished sharecroppers to find work and maintain
their dignity. Viking Press published the work on
April 14, 1939. Many reviewers praised the novel,
which went on to win a 1940 Pulitzer Prize for
fiction. Others reviewers criticized it for
sentimentality and frequent interruption of the main
story with chapters providing general background
information. Not a few politicians and businessmen
criticized it as socialist propaganda that exaggerated
the problems of migrant workers, and some religious
groups objected to it for its profanity. Nevertheless,
the book became a bestseller, and it remains popular
today as a classic novel of social protest. It
continues to generate controversy, however, when
discussed solely on its literary merits. Whether it
will ultimately merit inclusion in the list of great
American literary works of the first half of the 20th
Century remains to be seen.
alludes to the words "grapes of wrath" in Julia Ward
Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Howe's words,
in turn, allude to Chapter 63,
Verses 1 to 6, of the book of the prophet Isaiah in
the Old Testament of the Bible. In these verses,
Isaiah, who lived in the Eighth Century B.C.,
envisions the Lord in the role of the Messiah coming
forth from the lands of the wicked after punishing
their inhabitants. Arrayed in bloodstained robes, He
tells Isaiah that He has trampled the enemies of
Israel as if they were grapes from a bad harvest,
thereby venting His wrath. The juice of these bad
grapes—that is, the blood of the enemies of the
Lord—splatters his robes. In Steinbeck's book, the
grapes of wrath are the harvests planted by
landowners and growers. Here are the pertinent
verses from Isaiah as presented in the Douay-Rheims
Bible, Challoner Revision:
Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed
garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe,
walking in the greatness
of his strength. The words of
the first stanza of Howe's "Battle Hymn of the
Republic" are as follows:
..I, that speak justice,
and am a defender to save.
Edom... Edom and
Bosra (a strong city of Edom) are here taken in a
mystical sense for the enemies of Christ and his
then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like
theirs that tread in the winepress?
have trodden the winepress alone, and of the
Gentiles there is not a man with me: I have trampled
on them in my indignation,
have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood
is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel.
the day of vengeance is in my heart, the year of my
redemption is come.
looked about, and there was none to help: I sought,
and there was none to give aid: and my own arm hath
saved for me, and
my indignation itself hath helped me.
63:6. And I
have trodden down the people in my wrath, and have
made them drunk in my indignation, and have brought
strength to the earth.
eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath
loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift
is marching on.
The action takes place in the
middle of the Great Depression (1929-1939) in
Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
Specific locales include the abandoned Joad home, John
Joad's home, highways and towns along the route
traveled by the Joads, and camps for migrant
Loyal son of Ma and Pa Joad. Tom becomes their strong
right arm on the family's trip to California. In the
early chapters of the novel, Tom rejoins the family
after serving four years of a seven-year sentence at
the Oklahoma state prison at McAlester for killing a
man in self-defense. His apparently unjust
imprisonment does not embitter him, however, and he
carries on with his life without moping about the
past. Because he is honest, caring, self-confident,
and quick to stand up for his rights, his younger
brother Al looks up to him and Ma Joad regards him
with great affection. Tom is the novel's
A kind, loving, and strong woman who is the beating
heart of the Joad family, pumping courage, hope, and
moral values into the veins of each family member. She
maintains a positive outlook despite the hardship her
family faces. Her maiden name is Hazlett.
A good and reliable man who cedes his position as head
of the family to Ma after she undergirds and advises
the family during the journey.
Joad: Feisty, foul-mouthed, mischievous member
of the Joad family. He is the father of Pa Joad.
Grampa is so attached to the land he worked in
Oklahoma that his family has to trick him into leaving
with them for California by drugging him. He dies on
the road of a stroke apparently precipitated by
Joad: Deeply religious wife of Grampa Joad. She
is just as feisty as he is, which makes them an ideal
match. She too dies on the road.
Sharon Joad Rivers: Tom Joad's teenage sister,
who is married to Connie Rivers and is pregnant with
his child. She is immature and fanciful early in the
novel but becomes a mature young woman through her
experiences in the migrant camps. After her child is
stillborn, she feeds a starving man with her breast
milk. Her family generally pronounces her name
indistinctly as Rosasharn.
Sixteen-year-old brother of Tom Joad. He has an eye
for pretty girls and enjoys tinkering with cars. He
becomes a valuable asset to the Joads as a driver and
an auto mechanic. Near the end of the novel, he
becomes engaged to a young girl, Agnes Wainwright.
Older brother of Tom Joad. Noah is quiet, slow-moving, and
even-tempered. Although he gives the impression that
he is stupid and misshapen, he is neither. But he is
strange. Pa thinks he knows why. When Ma went into
labor with Noah, the midwife had not yet arrived.
Frantic with worry and fright by Ma’s screaming, he
pulled the baby out, twisting it this way and that.
When the midwife arrived, she had to “mold” the boy.
Because Pa has always felt guilty about the
incident, he treats Noah kindly. Noah abandons the
family in California, deciding to fish and live off
Twelve-year-old sister of Tom Joad.
Joad: Ten-year-old brother of Tom Joad.
Uncle of Tom Joad. Ma and Pa Joad and the rest of
their family stay with John after their eviction from
Former preacher who rejects organized religion and its
rigid moral dictates in favor of simply loving his
fellow human beings and working on their behalf.
Ironically, Casy devotes himself to a cause that
depends on organization and moral dictates: uniting
workers to agitate for their rights, including the
right to a just wage. He and his compatriots maintain
that society has a moral obligation to treat and pay
workers fairly. Casey dies at the hands of his
opponents, but Tom Joad takes up his cause.
Rivers: Husband of Rose of Sharon. He
continually talks of improving himself through
independent study. However, unable to endure the
migratory existence of the Joads, he abandons Connie.
Graves: Member of an evicted sharecropper family
who remains in Oklahoma while his wife and children go
to California. He becomes mentally unstable. He lives
from day to day, wandering the region where he worked
the land. After Tom Joad returns from prison, he
informs Tom of the whereabouts of his family.
Rawley: Operator of Weedpatch, a U.S.
government migrant camp. He treats the Joads and
others in the camp fairly and respectfully. Steinbeck
modeled the fictional Weedpatch facility on the
real-life Arvin Sanitary Camp founded in Kern County,
California, in 1936.
Sairy Wilson: Husband and wife from Galena,
Kansas, who meet the Joads on Route 66 after the
Wilson car breaks down. When Grampa Joad is dying,
they open their tent to him and treat the Joads
kindly. The Wilsons then join up with the Joads after
Al and Tom repair their car.
Wilson: Older brother of Ivy Wilson. He planned
to go to California with Ivy but decided to stay
behind after crashing a car he bought.
Minnie: Relation of the Wilsons.
Feeley: Deputy sheriff who patrols lands of
evicted sharecroppers to look for trespassers.
in the Camps and on the Road: These include
workers returning from California who warn Tom Joad
that California is not the promised land that
handbills depict it to be.
woman: Member of a religious group who insists
on saying prayers over Granma when she is sick.
Inspection Agents: Agricultural agents who
inspect migrant vehicles entering California.
Law Officers: Policemen siding with Californians
who object to the presence of so many migrant workers
in their communities. They attempt to break up the
camps and run the migrants out of their districts. One
deputy kills Jim Casy, and Tom kills the deputy, a
deed that forces him to live in hiding.
Knowles: Worker who agitates for better pay.
From Tulare County, Calif.: Man who attempts to
recruit men for field work but intends to pay very low
wages. He accuses Floyd Knowles of being a community
Deputy sheriff who closes a migrant camp.
Farmer who employs Tom temporarily to work on a
pipeline after Tom arrives at the Weedpatch camp. He
warns Tom that police plan to execute a scheme
designed to close Weedpatch.
and Wilkie Wallace: Brothers who help Tom get
his job with Mr. Thomas.
Huston: Chairman of the Central Committee at
Bullitt: Chairwoman of the ladies committee at
Weedpatch. She takes Ma Joad on a tour of the camp.
Summers: Former chairwoman of the ladies
committee at Weedpatch.
Sandry: Religious fanatic who bemoans the sin
committed at Weedpatch, including dancing.
Wainwright: Al's fiancée. She meets him
after the Joads camp in a boxcar.
Agnes Wainright: Parents of Aggie.
Man in Barn: Man whom Rose of Sharon feeds with
Son of starving man. When he asks the Joads whether
they have any milk for him, Rose of Sharon breastfeeds
Turnbull: The man Tom Joad killed with a shovel
at a dance.
Driver: Employee of Oklahoma City Transport who
eats at a restaurant near Shawnee, Oklahoma, and gives
Tom Joad a ride while the latter is hitchhiking home
from prison. The driver's questions help to reveal the
character of Tom.
Woman who serves the truck driver at the restaurant.
Operator: Young man hired by the banks to knock
down the homes of evicted tenant farmers. The driver
is himself the son of a tenant farmer, Joe Davis. But
because he has a wife and children to feed, the young
man says, he had no choice but to take the bulldozing
Joad Neighbors in Oklahoma, restaurant and gas-station
employees, acquaintances at migrant camps, members of
camp committees, field workers.
After the First World War turned
European farmlands into battlefields, American
agriculture prospered. To improve productivity,
the U.S. agricultural industry borrowed money for
machinery and more land. When Europe resumed
production after the war, American farm owners
received far less for wheat, corn, and other
crops. Consequently, they had to struggle to repay
loans. Banks began to seize the property of
defaulting landowners and evict sharecroppers
living and working on the farms. After the stock
market crashed in 1929, the world economy entered
a deep depression. On farms that escaped
foreclosure, financial prolems worsened.
Meanwhile, parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New
Mexico, and Colorado experienced widespread soil
erosion as a result of overplanting that stripped
away grasses needed to hold the soil in place.
Then, between 1934 and 1937, drought and wind
turned these agricultural heartlands into what a
newspaper called a "dust bowl." Banks seized more
farms, leaving hundreds of thousands of
sharecroppers and other farm laborers without
work. Because these workers had little or no
training in other occupations, their prospects for
new employment were severely limited. As a result,
many of them moved west, to California, responding
to handbills advertising for field workers. Farm
jobs in California were thought to be plentiful
partly because of its favorable climate year
round. The fictional Joad family, on whom
Steinbeck’s novel centers, enters the stream of
job seekers bound for California full of hope—and
By Michael J. Cummings...©
Drought settles in near the end of
May in Oklahoma. Day after day, the sun scorches
the crops, and soon the earth crusts over and
turns to powder. By June, road traffic and wind
carry the dust high into the air, and the sun
becomes a “dim red circle,” the narrator says.
The country is already in the midst of a terrible
economic depression. Now the hard times become
even harder for Oklahomans making their living off
the land, as well as for farm laborers in
During this time, the Oklahoma state prison at
McAlester releases a man of no more than thirty who
hopes to resume working on his family's tenant farm.
While hitchhiking home in his gray cap and cheap
hardcloth suit, he approaches
a roadside restaurant near Shawnee and sits on the
running board of a truck emblazoned with capital
letters: "OKLAHOMA CITY TRANSPORT." He mops his
brow with his cap. Inside the restaurant, the truck
driver pays his bill and puts his change, two
nickels, into a slot machine. No luck.
"They fix 'em so you can't win nothing," the
driver tells the waitress.
"Guy took the jackpot not three hours ago," she
says. "Three-eighty he got."
When the driver returns to his truck, the man on
the running board asks for a ride. The driver
notes the “No Riders” sticker on the windshield,
but the hitchhiker says, “Sure—I seen it. But
sometimes a guy’ll be a good guy even if some rich
bastard makes him carry a sticker.”
The hitchhiker gets his ride. After the truck
pulls out, the driver asks questions to pass the
time, and his passenger introduces himself as Tom
Joad. His father, old Tom Joad, is a sharecropper
on a forty-acre farm in eastern Oklahoma. When the
driver talks about his effort to improve
himself—he’s taking a correspondence course in
mechanical engineering—Joad takes a flask of
whiskey from a coat pocket and offers the driver a
“A guy can’t drink liquor all the time and study
like I’m goin’ to,” the driver says.
Joad then takes two gulps and, later, another
“You know where I come from, don’t you?” Joad
says, aware that the driver has noticed his prison
apparel. “Sure I been in McAlester,” Joad says.
“Sure these is the clothes they give me when I
come out. I don’t give a damn who knows it. An’
I’m goin’ to my old man’s place so I don’t have to
lie to get a job.”
Just before the driver drops him
at the turnoff to the Joad farm, Tom says he was
sentenced to seven years for killing a man but got
out in four for good behavior.
On the highway leading to the farm, Joad watches
as the driver of a light truck deliberately
swerves to hit a turtle. A tire strikes the edge
of its shell and spins the turtle off the road. On
its back, the turtle reaches out, finds a rock,
turns itself over, and resumes its journey.
Along the way to the farm, Joad meets a lean,
gray-haired man in overalls sitting against a
tree, whistling and singing. It is Jim Casy, a
preacher who baptized Tom when he was a boy. But
he’s no longer a man of the cloth, he says,
because the spirit isn’t in him anymore and
because “I ain’t so sure of a lot of things.” Joad
offers him a drink and he takes three good
swallows. Casy says there was a time when he’d
conduct a revival meeting, then go off into the
grass with one of the girls.
“I figgered there just wasn’t no hope for me, an’
I was a damned hypocrite.”
Now, he no longer accepts orthodox beliefs about
sin and religion. What counts is love and belief
in the human spirit, he says. Casy, unaware that
Joad has been in prison, says, “Been travelin’
around?” Joad then brings him up to date: At a
dance where there was plenty of alcohol going
around, a man named Herb Turnbull “got a knife in
me, an’ I killed him with a shovel layin’ there.”
He was sentenced to seven years but paroled in
Casy, who ’s not sure what the future holds for
him, tags along with Joad while they go to the
farm. At the top of a hill, they look down on it.
Joad notices right away that
“They ain’t nobody there.”
Banks had seized the land of the Joads and other
sharecroppers. When land produces no crops, it has
to be turned to another use and maybe sold to
easterners who have expressed interest in owning a
piece of land. Where do the families go? How do
they eat? Where do the men get work? The bank
can’t worry about those things. It is a monster
that feeds on profit, the narrator says.
While Joad and Casy look over the old place, Muley
Graves, an old friend of Tom’s, comes along with a
gunnysack containing three rabbits he killed. When
he and his wife and children were forced off the
land, Muley decided to stick around while the rest
of his family headed west. Now he just wanders
“like a ol’ graveyard ghos,’” sleeping here, sleeping
there. Tom asks Muley where his folks are and why
the Joad place “is all smashed up.”
Muley says the landowners hired a bulldozer to ram
the house to force the Joads off the land. They
moved to Tom’s Uncle John’s place, where they are
working the cotton fields to make enough money to
go to California.
That night, Muley, Tom, and Jim Casy roast the
rabbits and eat around the fire. When they see the
glow of headlights at the top of a nearby
hill, Muley says they should hide because they are
now trespassers on someone else’s land. At
first, Tom is reluctant to get up, saying, “I hate
to get pushed around.” But Muley tells him that
the car might be Willy Feeley’s.
“He’s got a gun,” Muley says. “He’ll use it ‘cause
he’s a deputy [sheriff].”
Tom, Muley, and Jim Casy hide in a field as the
car pulls up and pans a spotlight around the area.
Two men get out, look around, put out the fire,
and then get back in the car and leave. Tom and
his two companions then walk off and sleep in the
Before dawn, Tom and Jim begin the trek to Uncle
John’s place while Muley goes his own way. When
the two men arrive, Tom’s father is nailing rails
to a Hudson Super Six sedan that he is converting
into a pickup truck.
“It’s Tommy come home,” Pa Joad says when he sees
his son. A worried look crosses his face and he
says, “You ain’t busted out? You ain’t got to
Then they go inside. When Ma sees Tom, she says,
“Oh, Thank God!” After Tom tells her about the
parole, her “joy was nearly like sorrow,” the
Tom then gets reacquainted with his Grampa, who is
a cantankerous, carping, mischievous old man with
a dirty mouth; his Granma, who is just as tough as
Grampa and full of the fire of old-time religion;
and his older brother, Noah, who is calm, quiet,
slow-moving, and never gets angry. Although he
gives the impression that he is stupid and
deformed, he is neither. But he is strange. Pa
thinks he knows why. When Ma went into labor with
Noah, the midwife had not yet arrived. Frantic
with worry and fright by Ma’s screaming, he pulled
the baby out, twisting it this way and that. When
the midwife arrived, she had to “mold” the boy. Pa
has felt guilty about the incident ever since and
has always treated Noah kindly.
Other family members are out. Little Ruthie,
twelve, and Winfield, ten—Tom’s youngest
siblings—went with Uncle John to Sallisaw with a
load of the Joads’ belongings to sell: tools,
chickens, a pump, and so on. Rose of Sharon is
with her husband, Connie Rivers, visiting his
folks. Both are teenagers. Rose is pregnant. Al,
sixteen, is gallivanting around. He likes girls
and cars and is good at repairing and tuning
engines. He looks up to Tom.
Ma is optimistic about going to California.
I like to think how
nice it's gonna be, maybe, in California. Never
cold. An' fruit ever'place, an' people just bein'
in the nicest places, little white houses in among
the orange trees. I wonder—that is, if we all get
job an' all work—maybe we can get one of them
little white houses. An' the little fellas go out
an' pick oranges right off the tree.But Tom is wary. "I knowed a fella from
California. . . . . He says they's too many folks
lookin' for work right there now. An' he says the
folks that pick the fruit live in dirty ol' camps
an' don't hardly get enough to eat. He says wages is
low an' hard to get any."
Ma says she heard otherwise. "Your father got a
han'bill on yella paper, tellin' how they need folks
to work. They wouldn' go to that trouble if they
wasn't plenty of work. Costs 'em good money to get
them han'bills out."
After the Joads sell other belongings, they accept
Tom's recommendation to leave the following morning.
The group will include all of the Joads, Rose of
Sharon's husband, and Jim Casy, as well as the
family dog. As a final preparation, the Joads
slaughter pigs and make salt pork for the journey.
In the morning, after the family loads the
Hudson—now a truck with pine-wood sideboards—Grampa
refuses to leave, saying, “This here’s my country. I
b’long here.” After they fail to persuade him to go,
they drug his coffee with “soothin’ syrup” that Ma
gave Winfield for earaches. When Grampa falls
asleep, they carry him onto the truck.
Al takes the wheel and the truck chugs along at
thirty-five miles an hour as it passes through a
string of small towns—Sallisaw, Gore, Warner,
Checotah, Henrietta (Henryetta), and Castle. Near
Paden, they pull over for gas and a drink of water.
The dog gets off and sniffs around. Rose of Sharon
screams when the dog, wandering onto the highway,
gets hit by a big car. The car slows momentarily,
then speeds away from the mess of blood and
intestines on the highway. After Tom drags the dog
off the road, Rose of Sharon discovers that Granma
is missing and goes to a restroom to look for her.
She comes back with the old woman, who had fallen
asleep in the toilet.
nice in there,” she says.
When they resume their journey, Tom takes over the
driving. After traveling through Meeker and Harrah,
they pass through Oklahoma City.
“It was so big and strange it frightened them,” the
On the outskirts of the city, they pick up Route 66,
the famous concrete highway that goes all the way to
Bakersfield, California, via Texas, New Mexico, and
begins to worry about Tom, saying Pa told her that
parolees are not supposed to leave the state. But
Tom assures her that he will be all right as long as
he stays out of trouble. After going through
Bethany, they see an old touring car in a ditch and
a tent next to it and decide to stop there to eat.
They make friends with the couple traveling in the
car, Ivy Wilson and his wife, Sairy, from Galena,
Kansas. Their Dodge touring car has broken down, but
Al says he can fix it with Tom’s help. While the
children fetch water from a nearby gas station,
Noah, Uncle John, and Jim Casy help Grampa down from
the truck. When he says he is sick and begins to
cry, Sairy invites him into her tent to rest. After
lying down on a mattress, Grampa's legs and hands
move about and his face turns red. Casy thinks he is
having a stroke. Sairy agrees, saying she has
witnessed strokes on three other occasions. A short
while later, Grampa dies.
Because the Joads lack the money for a funeral and
legal burial, they decide bury him there, next to
the road. Ma washes the body, and Sairy provides a
quilt in which to wrap it. When they bury Grampa,
Casy says words over the body. Then they eat. The
Joads and Wilsons decide to travel together,
enabling some of the Joads to ride with the Wilsons.
Meanwhile, if their car breaks down again, Al will
be around to fix it.
“Each’ll help each, an’ we’ll all git to
California,” Ma says.
On the road again, the Joads and the Wilsons pass
through Bridgeport, Clinton, Elk City, Sayre, and
Texola, then enter the Texas panhandle and continue
to push on without a major incident. Finally, they
enter New Mexico and cross the Pecos River at Santa
Rosa. Tom is driving the truck. Behind him, Al is at
the wheel of the touring car. In the front seat with
Al are Ma and Rose of Sharon. Rose tells Ma that she
and Connie eventually want to live in a city, where
he can get a job while studying at home to better
himself. Maybe one day he will be able to open his
own store. But Ma says, “It ain’t good for folks to
Al hears rattling in the engine. Worried, he pulls
over and blows his horn for Tom to stop. Tom brings
the truck to a halt and backs up to the car. He and
Al listen to the car engine and agree that the
problem is a con-rod bearing. Fortunately, Tom and
Al manage to get the right part at a junkyard and
fix the car.
Later, the group stops at a camp to stay the night,
but the owner refuses to accommodate them. While
there, they hear that California is not the utopia
it is advertised to be. There, migrant workers are
looked down upon, jobs are hard to come by, and
labor problems create unrest. One man says he lost
his wife and two children in California and is now
on his way back home. Better to starve in familiar
surroundings, he believes.
Nevertheless, the Joads press on, through the
mountains of New Mexico and through Arizona via the
Painted Desert and the towns of Holbrook, Joseph
City, Winslow, and Flagstaff. After crossing the
Colorado River, they arrive early one morning in
California. They stop at Needles to bathe and swim
in the Colorado River. There, they meet two men on
their way back to their home in Texas. One of them
tells Tom and Pa about the problems they can expect
“Gonna be deputy sheriffs, an’ they’ll push you
aroun.’ You camp on the roadside, an’ they’ll move
Californians call workers from Oklahoma Okies.
“Okie means you’re scum,” the man says.
The man then says he heard that there are 300,000
migrants in California “livin’ like hogs.”
Later, Noah informs Tom that he’s not going on with
the rest of the family. Instead, he says, he’s going
to live by the river.
“I’ll catch fish,” he says. “Fella can’t starve
beside a nice river.”
Tom says he’s crazy, but Noah stubbornly sticks to
his plan and goes off on his own.
Meanwhile, in the oppressive heat, Granma becomes
gravely ill. She is lying on a mattress in their
tarpaulin tent, and Ma sits by her fanning her with
a piece of cardboard while talking with Rose of
Sharon. A woman in a black dress—a member of a
religious group called the Jehovites—pokes into the
tent and says she heard that there was a soul in the
tent ready to meet the Lord. She says she and her
friends will come in and say prayers over her. Ma
refuses the offer, but the woman is insistent. She
puts a hand on Granma’s forehead and says it is
clear she is about to die and needs prayers. But Ma
again refuses her, and the woman leaves, promising
her group will pray for Granma.
Ma tells Rose of Sharon that the Jehovites are good
people but that she doesn’t like the idea of
“howlers an’ jumpers” in the tent. A short while
later, a man with a gun and a badge on his shirt
enters the tent and tells Ma everyone has to leave
by morning or “I’ll run you in.” Ma threatens him
with a skillet and scolds him for his harsh manner.
He backs up and tells her that people in California
“don’t want Okies settlin’ down.”
After Tom returns and informs Ma of Noah’s decision,
Mr. Wilson comes by and says he and his wife can’t
continue on. “Sairy’s done up,” he says. “She got to
res’. She ain’t gonna git across that desert alive.”
The Joads resume their journey. About midnight, they
arrive at the agricultural-inspection station at
Dagget, where an officer asks whether they are
carrying any vegetables and seeds. Tom says no, but
the officer says he must look through everything on
their truck. Ma then tells the officer that the
truck must move on immediately because it is
carrying a very sick woman who needs a doctor. When
the officer sees Grandma’s shrunken face, he lets
them pass. In the morning, when they arrive at a
beautiful valley with vineyards and orchards, Ma
tells everyone that Granma is dead. She was already
dead back at the inspection station. If the officers
had found that out, Ma says, they might not have let
the family pass. When they reach Bakersfield, they
turn the body over to the coroner’s office for
burial by the county. There was nothing else to do,
Pa assures Ma, who is feeling bad about the
arrangement. They couldn’t afford the kind of
funeral Granma would have wanted.
When they drive out of the city and into the
countryside, they find a migrants’ camp and stop
there. A young man tells Tom about the unfair labor
conditions in California. Suppose a job is
available, he says, but a hundred men want it.
“Jus’ offer ‘em a nickel [an hour]—while they’ll
kill each other fightin’ for that nickel.”
What the landowners do is circulate handbills in
many states that exaggerate the job opportunities,
the young man says. Such a strategy attracts
thousands more laborers than needed. The resulting
competition for the jobs among the desperate
migrants enables the landowners to pay the lowest
wage possible. When workers organize and choose a
leader to negotiate for better wages, the young man
says, “well, first time this fella opens his mouth
they grab ‘im and stick ‘im in jail.” Anyone who
even talks about organizing gets blacklisted. After
his picture circulates among the landowners, he
can’t get work anywhere.
Meanwhile, in the Joads’ tarpaulin tent, Connie
tells Rose of Sharon, “If I’d of knowed it would be
like this, I wouldn’ of came. I’d a studied nights
’bout tractors back home an’ got me a three-dollar
job. Fella can live awful nice on three dollars a
day, an’ go to the pitcher show ever’ night, too.”
Outside, Ma gives stew to hungry children even
though the Joads have hardly enough for themselves.
Al strikes up a conversation with a man working on
an engine block. His name is Floyd Knowles. After
they talk cars for a while, Knowles says that he,
his wife, and children have been trying for six
months to make a go of it in California. However,
he’s still having trouble earning enough money to
put food on the table. Al calls Tom over and
introduces him, but it turns out that Knowles was
the man Tom was talking with before.
Knowles tells Tom there might be work up north in
Santa Clara Valley picking prunes and pears. But
that’s two hundreed miles away. Another man says
there will be jobs locally in about a month, when
cotton will be ready to pick.
Just then, a man drives up in a new Chevrolet, gets
out, and announces that he needs fruit pickers in
Tulare County. When Knowles asks about the pay, the
man—a contractor—says it might be thirty cents but
he can’t be sure. Knowles, suspicious, asks the man
to show his license and give the men a work order
specifying when and where they will work and for how
much. Becoming angry, the man says he will run his
business the way he wants to. After Knowles tells
the other migrants that they will end up with poor
wages if they agree to the man’s terms, the man
turns and calls “Joe!” to a passenger in the
Chevrolet. A deputy sheriff with a pistol gets out,
and the contractor tells him that Knowles is
“talkin’ red, agitating trouble.” The deputy then
says the camp must close, by order of the Board of
Health, and it would be best if the migrants
accepted work in Tulare County.
“An’ if it gets around that you got reds out
here—why, somebody might git hurt,” the deputy
When he attempts to arrest the agitator, Knowles
hits him in the face and runs. The deputy staggers,
and Tom trips him. The deputy falls, reaches for his
gun, and fires wildly. He strikes a woman in her
hand, ripping away her knuckles. When he poises his
gun once more to shoot at Knowles, Jim Casy kicks
the deputy, who lapses into unconsciousness. Tom
throws the gun into brush.
More police arrive. Aware that the deputy saw Tom
stick out his foot to trip him, Casy takes full
blame for the incident, and the police take him
away.Meanwhile, Connie, unable to endure
the migrant life any longer, abandons Rose of
The Joads take to the road again after hearing that
the camp will be burned to the ground. The next stop
is Weedpatch, a government camp that treats migrants
humanely and allows them to govern themselves,
electing leaders and establishing rules. The camp
has running water and housing—and even dances—and
Tom gets a temporary job installing pipeline. One
day while Tom is working on the pipeline, Mr.
Thomas, the farmer who hired Tom, warns him that
police plan to provoke the migrants into violent
behavior at a Saturday-night dance. After the
disturbance begins, the police will blame the
migrants for starting it and close the camp. Tom
alerts others in the camp to beware of the scheme,
and they thwart it by remaining passive.
Tom’s job lasts only five days and, after a month,
their money runs out, they have no job offers, and
they have to resort to eating fried dough.
to do somepin,” Ma says.
So, once again, the family moves on. At another
ranch, they accept an offer to pick peaches for five
cents a box. However, the only reason they were
recruited was to replace workers agitating for
higher pay. Although Tom sympathizes with the
workers, he and the other Joads take the work out of
desperation. By the end of the day, they make enough
to buy a little food.
Meanwhile, Tom discovers that Casy, now out of jail,
is one of the agitators. While Tom is talking with
him, police arrive and confront Casy. During a
struggle, a deputy murders Casy. Tom then kills the
deputy but suffers a blow to the head in the
The Joads leave camp with Tom hiding under a
mattress. After traveling about twenty miles, they
join up with other migrants living in abandoned
boxcars and get work picking cotton. Tom, however,
spends his time hiding out in a cave near a stream.
During the next month, the family makes enough money
to buy good food. Moreover, their
accommodations—humble as they are—are better than
those at all the other camps except Weedpatch. Al
falls in love with a girl named Agnes Wainwright and
makes plans to marry her.
One day Ruthie—bragging to another girl about her
big brother—unwittingly reveals his location. When
Ma, who regularly takes food to Tom, tells him what
happened, Tom decides to go off on his own to pursue
the cause of the working man as Casy did.
Eventually, he says, he will return to the family.
then turns against the Joads in the form of heavy
rains for three days that swell the waterways. Rose
of Sharon, meanwhile. is about to give birth. Pa
builds a mud dam with the help of others who remain
behind, but a falling tree breaks it down. Rose of
Sharon bears a dead baby, and Uncle John floats it
away in the water as a testament to the suffering
endured by migrants.
While Al stays behind with Agnes Wainright, the
Joads go on foot to higher ground and take refuge in
an abandoned barn. Inside is a starving man and his
boy. The boy tells Ma and Rose of Sharon that his
father has not eaten in six days; he gave his food
to the boy. When he finally did eat something, he
vomited. Now, the boy says, he can probably keep
down only bread or milk. "Do you have any milk?" Ma
looks at Rose of Sharon, and the latter says, "Yes."
Then she gives the man the only food she has,
nursing him with her breast milk.
Narration and Structure
narrator tells the story in third-person point of
view. Generally, the narrator is omniscient, or
all-knowing, seeing and reporting the thoughts of
the characters as well as witnessing and reporting
the action. At times, however, he reports only the
action without revealing the characters'
thoughts. The narration alternates between chapters
centering on society, nature, universal themes, or
background information and chapters centering on
specific people and places. For example, Chapter 1
presents information about the the Dust Bowl and
society's reaction to it. Chapter 2 centers on Tom
Joad and a truck driver who gives Tom a ride home
after his release from prison. Chapter 3 centers on
a turtle that exhibits the kind of perseverance that
sustains the Joad family during their journey west.
Chapter 4 focuses on Tom and Jim Casy, a former
preacher who tags along with Tom. Chapter 5 presents
general information on how banks evict tenant
farmers. Chapter 6 zeroes in on Tom, Casy, and Muley
Graves at the abandoned Joad homestead. The
narration continues to alternate chapters in this
way, giving the novel a balanced structure. .
Ma Joad repeatedly stresses the importance of family
bonds. If the Joads stand together in familial love,
they can have a meaningful and worthwhile life. Ma
applies her philosophy to society as a whole,
regarding all men as brothers. She welcomes Jim Casy
and the Wilsons; she feeds hungry children at a
migrant camp even though she has barely enough food
for her own family. The example she sets greatly
influences her daughter, Rose of Sharon, who, the
end of the novel, nurses a starving man with her
and Cooperation: Casy espouses unity and
cooperation in his attempts to organize the migrant
workers into a single voice that demands justice and
fair wages. After Casy dies, Tom Joad decides to
devote himself to carrying on Casy’s cause. Ma Joad
also espouses unity and cooperation, stressing the
importance of maintaining family ties and of
cooperating with others to achieve common goals.
After meeting the Wilsons on the road, she says, “Each’ll help each, an’ we’ll all
git to California.”
Casy, a former preacher, believes that loving fellow
human beings and acting on their behalf is more
important than ranting from the pulpit and warning
people to live by the letter of the law. He
willingly accepts blame and goes to jail for an
offense that he did not commit. And he dies in the
service of fellow human beings. Some scholars regard
him as a Christ figure: His initials are J. C. and
he lays down his life for others.
in the Face of Hostility: The third chapter of
the novel presents this theme when a truck
deliberately runs over a turtle, knocking it to the
side of the road. On its back, the turtle reaches
out with its legs, grabs onto a rock, rights itself,
and resumes its journey. This chapter foreshadows
the response of the Joads to the troubles they face
on their journey.
Landowners and labor contractors lure the
impoverished to California with handbills promising
jobs for everyone. This tactic is a ploy to attract
more workers than needed and then to offer the jobs
to those willing to accept meager wages.
Many Californians assume that Oklahoma migrants are
the lowest of the low and give them a name, Okies,
charged with negative connotations. “Okie means
you’re scum,” one migrant worker tells Tom.
Car salesmen take advantage of migrants desperate
for transportation to California. A business charges
traveling migrants for water. Landowners pay
migrants very low wages in order to turn a
Ma Joad never loses hope for a better future. Tom’s
decision to continue Casy’s effort to organize
workers and Rose of Sharon’s simple act of nursing a
starving man both suggest Ma’s hope is not
unfounded. Where people help each other, there is
every reason to believe that good will come of
The climax of
the novel is the murder of Jim Casy as an event that
spurs Tom Joad to become a union organizer, like Casy.
foreshadows events in the rest of the novel. This
chapter describes the southwest journey of a turtle
on a concrete highway. After a light truck
deliberately swerves to hit it, the turtle spins on
its shell to the side of the road and comes to rest
on its back. Reaching out with a foreleg, it finds a
rock, pulls itself upright, and resumes its journey.
The turtle symbolizes the Joad family on its journey
west to California on Route 66, a concrete highway,
and the light truck symbolizes the adversaries and
obstacles they encounter along the way. Finally, the
turtle's recovery and resumption of its journey
symbolize the resolve of the Joads, led by Ma, to
reach their destination and begin life anew.
must battle numerous forces, three of which are
beyond their control: the severely depressed
economy, the terrible drought, and the illnesses
that kill Grampa and Granma Joad. Their human
adversaries include demanding bankers who evict
sharecroppers with bulldozers, greedy businessmen,
corrupt law officers, and prejudiced middle- and
upper-class citizens. The Joads also fight forces
within themselves. For example, Pa Joad and Uncle
John struggle against guilt for past deeds, and Tom
Joad grapples with his headstrong ways and quick
temper. Like the Joads, Jim Casy faces internal and
external conflicts. In his soul, he struggles toward
a new religious outlook. Outwardly, he battles
unfair labor practices.
Biblical Allusions and Overtones
of the Joads recalls two Old Testament stories: (1)
the Israelites’ departure from Egypt for the
Promised Land, as told in the Book of Exodus, and
(2) the tribulations suffered by the innocent and
upright Job, as told in the Book of Job. In
addition, the life and death of Jim Casy recalls the
life and death of Christ, as told in the New
Testament gospels, and the title of the novel
alludes to verses in the book of the prophet Isaiah
in the Old Testament.
first Old Testament story, the Israelites leave
Egypt after suffering years of oppression there.
They then escape a pursuing Egyptian army. This part
of the Bible story parallels the Joads’ departure
from Oklahoma and the harassment of them by officers
of the law. In the second story, the righteous
patriarch Job suffers terrible ordeals, including
the loss of possessions and family members, but
never loses his faith in God. In Steinbeck’s novel,
the Joads lose their home, the two oldest members of
the family, and Rose of Sharon’s child; but, led by
Ma, they never lose faith in God or hope for a
of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of
the life and death of Jesus Christ. In these
gospels, Jesus is depicted as (1) speaking in
opposition to many of the views of the Pharisees, a
group of Jewish laymen schooled in oral and written
religious laws and practices; (2) preaching a
message of love and repentance; (3) exalting the
poor and the humble; and (4) dying on a cross for
the sins of humankind. In Steinbeck's novel, Jim
Casy rejects orthodox religious views, preaches
universal brotherhood, works on behalf of the
downtrodden migrant laborers, and dies when
promoting their cause. It must be noted, however,
that the orthodox views Casy rejects include some
moral dictums established or validated by Christ.
Moreover, Casy's idea of universal brotherhood is
more akin to the teachings of 19th Century
transcendentalists than to the teachings of Christ.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that Steinbeck did
intend to present Casy as a Christ figure. Even
Casy's initials are the same as Christ's.
For information on the title's allusion to the book
of Isaiah, see Title, above.
uses a variety of writing techniques in The
Grapes of Wrath to enhance his presentation.
One of them is his somewhat poetic descriptions of
nature. They frequently employ personification, as
in the following two paragraphs from Chapter 1 in
which a cunning wind uproots corn (much as the banks
and landowners root up the tenant farmers) but later
cries and whimpers over the corn (perhaps in
grew stronger, whisked under stones, carried up
straws and old leaves, and even little clods,
marking its course as it sailed across the fields.
The air and the sky darkened and through them the
sun shone redly, and there was a raw sting in the
air. During a night the wind raced faster over the
land, dung cunningly among the rootlets of the corn,
and the corn fought the wind with its weakened
leaves until the roots were freed by the prying wind
and then each stalk settled wearily sideways toward
the earth and pointed the direction of the wind.
Another technique is the use
of omniscient narration in passages in which
characters unidentified by name reveal their thoughts
in second-person point of view. In the following
passage from Chapter 7, Steinbeck employs this
technique to reveal the thoughts of a dishonest car
The dawn came, but no day.
In the gray sky a red sun appeared, a dim red circle
that gave a little light, like dusk; and as that day
advanced, the dusk slipped back toward darkness, and
the wind cried and whimpered over the fallen
the woman's face. If the woman likes it [a car] we
can screw the old man. Start 'em on that Cad'. Then
you can work 'em down to that '26 Buick. 'F you
start on the Buick, they'll go for a Ford. Roll up
your sleeves an' get to work. A third technique is the use
of dialogue that imitates the patois of particular
regions and social classes. The following conversation
from Chapter 13 takes place after the death of Grampa
Joad. Young Al is upset that Grampa died before having
a chance to experience the wonders of California,
especially the grapes that he was going to squeeze
over his head in a joyous celebration. But in an
attempt to comfort and enlighten Al—as well as Pa and
Uncle John—Jim Casy tells him that Grampa was not at
all looking forward to living in California:
foolin' all the time [about wanting to see
California]. I think he knowed it. An' Grampa didn'
die tonight. He died the minute you took 'im off the
place [the Oklahoma farm]." A fourth technique is the
rat-a-tat presentation of abundant specific details to
capture the atmosphere of a particular locale.
Consider, for example, the opening paragraph of
"You sure a that?" Pa
"Why, no. Oh, he was
breathin'," Casy went on, "but he was dead. He was
that place [the farm], an' he knowed it."
Uncle John said, "Did you
know he was a-dyin'?"
"Yeah," said Casy. "I
John gazed at him and a
horror grew in his face. "An' you didn' tell
"What good?" Casy asked.
"We--we might of did
"I don't know, but--"
"No," Casy said, "you
couldn' a done nothin'. Your way was fixed an'
Grampa didn't have no part in it. He didn' suffer
none. Not after fust thing this mornin'. He's jus'
stayin' with the lan'. He couldn' leave it."
the hamburger stands—Al & Susy's Place—Carl's
Lunch—Joe & Minnie—Will's Eats. Board-and-bat
shacks. Two gasoline pumps in front, a screen door,
a long bar, stools, and a foot rail. Near the door
three slot machines, showing through the glass the
wealth in nickels three bars will bring. And beside
them, the nickel phonograph with records piled up
like pies, ready to swing out to the turntable and
play dance music, "Ti-pi-ti-pi-tin," "Thanks for the
Memory," Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman. At one end of
the counter, a covered case; candy cough drops,
caffeine sulphate called Sleepless, No-Doze; candy,
cigarettes, razor blades, aspirin, Bromo-Seltzer,
Alka-Seltzer. The walls decorated with posters,
bathing girls, blondes with big breasts and slender
hips and waxen faces, in white bathing suits, and
holding a bottle of Coca-Cola and smiling—see what
you get with a Coca-Cola. Long bar, and salts,
peppers, mustard pots, and paper napkins. Beer taps
behind the counter, and in back the coffee urns,
shiny and steaming, with glass gauges showing the
coffee level. And pies in wire cages and oranges in
pyramids of four. And little piles of Post Toasties,
corn flakes, stacked up in designs.Symbolism
symbols that Steinbeck uses in the novel are the
(1) Utter ruination of a way of life; death; (2)
forces beyond the control of the Joads.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
Turtle: Perseverance of the Joads.
Truck That Hits the Turtle: Law officers and
others hostile toward the Joads.
The brute power of the unfeeling, indifferent banks.
The lands traversed by Moses and the Israelites on
their way toward Canaan.
Thousands of Migrants on the Road: The
Israelites in their exodus from Egypt.
False Promised Land.
Sharon: Fertile and plantable future for the
Joads. Sharon is a fertile plain along the coast of
Israel, and a rose of sharon is a shrub with showy
flowers. Early in the novel, Rose is the showy
flower; late in the novel, she is the fertile plain
full of promise and nourishment for survival. In the
Bible, the rose of Sharon is mentioned in Chapter 2,
Verse 1, of the Canticle of Canticles (or Song
1.....Who is the most
admirable character in the novel? Who is the least
2.....Who is the most
undergoes the most change?
4.....In what ways is the
ending of the novel optimistic and hopeful?
5.....In an essay, compare
and contrast the treatment of migrant workers in the
U.S. in the 1930s with the treatment that migrant
workers receive today.
6.....Invent two characters
who are looking for work during the Great
Depression. Then write one page of conversation
between them in a working-class dialect.
7.....Write an essay
describing the condition of Oklahoma farmland during
the Dust Bowl.
8.....What is sharecropping?
What is tenant farmer?
essay explaining why The Grapes of Wrath
was frequently banned in some parts of the United
10. .Write an essay arguing that
Steinbeck's fictional portrayal of the plight of
migrant workers accurately reflected the real-life
problems of the
11...Write an essay arguing that
Steinbeck's fictional portrayal of the plight of
migrant workers exaggerated the real-life problems
of the migrants.