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The Grapes of Wrath

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Wikipedia article

'The Grapes of Wrath' is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. For it he won the annual National Book Award

and Pulitzer Prize for novels and it was cited prominently when he won the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other "Okies", they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes due to its historical context and enduring legacy. A celebrated Hollywood film version, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford, was made in 1940.


The narrative begins just after Tom Joad is paroled from McAlester prison for homicide. On his journey to his home near Sallisaw, Oklahoma, he meets former preacher Jim Casy whom he remembers from his childhood, and the two travel together. When they arrive at his childhood farm home, they find it deserted. Disconcerted and confused, he and Casy meet their old neighbor, Muley Graves, who tells them that the family has gone to stay at Uncle John Joad's home nearby. He goes on to tell them that the banks have kicked all the farmers off their land, but he refuses to go.

Tom and Casy get up the next morning to go to Uncle John's. There, Tom finds his family loading a converted Hudson truck with what remains of their possessions; the crops were destroyed in the Dust Bowl and, as a result, the family had to default on their loans. With their farm repossessed, the Joads cling to hope, mostly in the form of handbills distributed everywhere in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, describing the fruitful state of California and the high pay to be had in that state. The Joads are seduced by this advertising and invest everything they have into the journey. Although leaving Oklahoma would be breaking parole, Tom decides that it is a risk worth taking. Casy joins the family as well.

Going west on Route 66, the Joad family discovers that the road is saturated with other families making the same trek, ensnared by the same promise. In makeshift camps, they hear many stories from others, some coming back from California, and are forced to confront the possibility that their prospects may not be what they hoped. Along the road, Grampa dies and is buried in the camp; Granma dies close to the California state line, both Noah (the eldest Joad son) and Connie (the husband of the pregnant Joad daughter, Rose of Sharon) split from the family; the remaining members, led by Ma, realize they have no choice but to go on, as there is nothing remaining for them in Oklahoma.

Upon arrival, they find little hope of making a decent wage, as there is an oversupply of labor and a lack of rights, and the big corporate farmers are in collusion, while smaller farmers are suffering from collapsing prices. A gleam of hope is presented at Weedpatch Camp, one of the clean, utility-supplied camps operated by the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency that has been established to help the migrants, but there is not enough money and space to care for all of the needy. As a Federal facility, the camp is also off-limits to California deputies who constantly harass and provoke the newcomers.

In response to the exploitation of laborers, there are people who attempt for the workers to join unions, including Casy, who had gone to jail after taking the blame for attacking a rogue deputy. The remaining Joads work as strikebreakers on a peach orchard where Casy is involved in a strike that eventually turns violent. Tom Joad witnesses the killing of Casy and kills the attacker, becoming a fugitive. They later leave the orchard for a cotton farm where Tom is at risk of being identified for the murder he committed.

He bids farewell to his mother, promising that no matter where he runs, he will be a tireless advocate for the oppressed. Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn; however, Ma Joad remains steadfast and forces the family through the bereavement. When the rains arrive, the Joads' dwelling is flooded, and they move to higher ground.


* 'Tom Joad' Protagonist of the story; the Joad family's second son, named after his father. Later on, Tom takes leadership of the family even though he is young.

* 'Ma Joad' matriarch. Practical and warm-spirited, she tries to hold the family together. Her given name is never learned; it is suggested that her maiden name was Hazlett.

* 'Pa Joad' patriarch, also named Tom, age 50. Hardworking sharecropper and family man. Pa loses his place as leader of the family to his wife.

* 'Uncle John Joad' Older brother of Pa Joad (Tom describes him as "a fella about 60", but the narrator later tells you he is 50), feels responsible for the death of his young wife years before when he ignored her pleas for a doctor because he thought she just had a stomachache, when she actually had a burst appendix. Filled with guilt, he is prone to binges involving alcohol and prostitutes, yet tries to repent for his sins and guilt by spoiling Ruthie and Winfield with candy when he can.

* 'Jim Casy' A former preacher who lost his faith after fornicating with willing members of his church numerous times, and from his perception that religion has no solace or answer for the difficulties the people are experiencing. He is a Christ-like figure and is based on Ed Ricketts.

* 'Al Joad' The second youngest son, a "smart-aleck sixteen-year-older" who cares mainly for cars and girls; looks up to Tom, but begins to find his own way.

* 'Rose of Sharon Joad Rivers' Childish and dreamy teenage daughter (about 16 or 17) who develops as the novel progresses to become a mature woman. She symbolizes regrowth when she helps the starving stranger (see also Roman Charity, works of art based on the legend of a daughter as wet nurse to her dying father). Pregnant in the beginning of the novel, she delivers a stillborn baby, probably as a result of malnutrition. Her name is pronounced "Rosasharn" by the family.

* 'Connie Rivers' Rose of Sharon's husband. Young and nave, he is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of marriage and impending fatherhood, and abandons her shortly after arriving in California. He is stated to be 19 years old upon his and Tom's first encounter before leaving for California.

* 'Noah Joad' The oldest son who is the first to willingly leave the family, choosing to stay by the Colorado river and survive by fishing. Injured at birth, described as "strange", he may have slight learning difficulties.

* 'Grampa Joad' Tom's grandfather, who expresses his strong desire to stay in Oklahoma. His full name is given as 'William James Joad'. Grampa is drugged by his family with "soothin' syrup" to force him to leave, but dies in the evening of the first day on the road; Casy attributes his death to a stroke, but also says that Grampa is "jus' stayin' with the lan'. He couldn' leave it."

* 'Granma Joad' The religious wife of Grampa Joad, she seems to lose the will to live (and consequently dies while crossing the desert, possibly as a result of exposure to the heat while crossing New Mexico and Arizona) after her husband's death.

* 'Ruthie Joad' The youngest daughter, age twelve.

* 'Winfield Joad' The youngest male in the family, age ten. He and Ruthie are close.

* 'Jim Rawley' Manages the camp at Weedpatch, he shows the Joads surprising favor.

* 'Muley Graves' A neighbor of the Joads, he is invited to come along to California with them but refuses. Two of the family dogs are left in his care, while the third goes along with the family and is killed by a car on the road when they stop for gas.

* 'Ivy and Sairy Wilson' Kansas folks in a similar predicament, who help attend the death of Grampa and subsequently share the traveling with the Joads as far as the California state line. It is implied Sairy is too ill to carry on.

* 'Mr. Wainwright' The father of Aggie Wainwright and husband of Mrs. Wainwright. Worries over his daughter who is sixteen and in his words "growed up".

* 'Mrs. Wainwright' Mother to Aggie Wainwright and wife to Mr. Wainwright. She helps deliver Rose of Sharon's stillborn baby with Ma.

* 'Aggie Wainwright' Sixteen years of age. Daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright. Intends to marry Al. Aggie takes care of Ruthie and Winfield when Rose of Sharon goes into labor. She has limited interactions with the other characters. Her real name is Agnes.

* 'Floyd Knowles' the man at the Hooverville who urges Tom and Casy to join labor organizations. He agitates the police and this results in Casy going to jail.

* 'Joe/Mike' A deputy who is hit by Floyd, tripped by Tom and knocked out by Casy at the Hooverville. He claims that Casy did not hit him (as he did not see it) but Casy convinces him he did. He is called Joe by the man who he arrives at the Hooverville with to ask for peach pickers, but strangely the other deputies refer to him as Mike.

* 'George' A guard at the peach orchard. He kills Casy, and is then killed by Tom.

* 'Al' A cook at a restaurant who orders Mae to give bread to a poor migrant family.

* 'Mae' A waitress at a restaurant who is ordered to give bread to a migrant family. She later gives them two pieces of candy for one cent, when it is later revealed that the candy was a nickel apiece. She is then given an extra-large tip by truckers who ate lunch there, perhaps to compensate for the loss of income for under-pricing the candies.

* 'Big Bill' A trucker who eats lunch at the restaurant where Al and Mae work. He and his friend, another trucker, leave an extra-large tip and then leave.


The novel developed from "The Harvest Gypsies", a series of seven articles that ran in the 'San Francisco News', from October 5 to October 12, 1936. The newspaper commissioned that work on migrant workers from the Midwest in California's agriculture industry. (It was later compiled and published separately.

Published by the Simon S. Lubin Society of California as a pamphlet entitled "Their Blood is Strong." Republished 1988 by Heyday as "The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath." Source: Cordyack.


While writing the novel at his home, 16250 Greenwood Lane, in what is now Monte Sereno, California, Steinbeck had unusual difficulty devising a title. "The Grapes of Wrath", suggested by his wife, Carol Steinbeck, was deemed more suitable than anything the author could come up with. The title is a reference to lyrics from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", by Julia Ward Howe:

'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where 'the grapes of wrath' are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.'

These lyrics refer, in turn, to the biblical passage Revelation 14:1920, an apocalyptic appeal to divine justice and deliverance from oppression in the final judgment.

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

The phrase also appears at the end of chapter 25 in 'The Grapes of Wrath' which describes the purposeful destruction of food to keep the price high:

'...and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people 'the grapes of wrath' are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.'

As might be expected, the image invoked by the title serves as a crucial symbol in the development of both the plot and the novel's greater thematic concerns: from the terrible winepress of Dust Bowl oppression will come terrible wrath but also the deliverance of workers through their cooperation, which is hinted at but does not materialize within the novel.

Author's note

When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]." He famously said, "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags," and this work won a large following among the working class due to Steinbeck's sympathy to the workers' movement and his accessible prose style.http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/8555

Critical reception

Steinbeck scholar John Timmerman sums up the book's impact: "'The Grapes of Wrath' may well be the most thoroughly discussed novel in criticism, reviews, and college classrooms of 20th century American literature."

At the time of publication, Steinbeck's novel "was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read."

According to 'The New York Times' it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940.

In that month it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.

"1939 Book Awards Given by Critics: Elgin Groseclose's 'Ararat' is Picked as Work Which Failed to Get Due Recognition", 'The New York Times', February 14, 1940, page 25. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
Soon it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

[http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Novel "Novel"] (Winners 19171947). The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved January 28, 2012.

Part of its impact stemmed from its passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and in fact, many of Steinbeck's contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Bryan Cordyack writes, "Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book's depiction of California farmers' attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a 'pack of lies' and labeled it 'communist propaganda'. Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel and argued their inhumane nature destroyed the settlers' spirit.

In 1962, the Nobel Prize committee cited 'Grapes of Wrath' as a "great work" and as one of the committee's main reasons for granting Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature. 'Time' magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005". In 2009, The Daily Telegraph also included the novel in its "100 novels everyone should read". In 1998, the Modern Library ranked 'The Grapes of Wrath' tenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.


The book was quickly made into a famed Hollywood movie of the same name directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. The first part of the film version follows the book fairly accurately. However, the second half and the ending in particular are significantly different from the book.

The Steppenwolf Theatre Company produced a stage version of the book, adapted by Frank Galati. Gary Sinise played Tom Joad for its entire run of 188 performances on Broadway in 1990.[http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=4557 Internet Broadway Database: The Grapes of Wrath Production Credits] One of these performances was shown on PBS the following year.

It was revealed in the 2009 documentary 'American: The Bill Hicks Story' that 'The Grapes of Wrath' was the favorite novel of the comedian Bill Hicks, who was such a fan that he based his famous last words on Tom Joad's final speech: "I left in love, in laughter, and in truth, and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit."

An opera based on the novel was co-produced by the Minnesota Opera and Utah Symphony and Opera, with music by Ricky Ian Gordon and libretto by Michael Korie. The world premiere performance of the opera was given in February 2007, to favorable local reviews.Michael Anthony, "'Grapes' is a sweet, juicy production", Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2/12/2007

American rock singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen named his eleventh studio album 'The Ghost of Tom Joad', after the character. The first track on the album is also called 'The Ghost of Tom Joad'. The song and to a lesser extent, the other songs on the album draws comparisons between the Dust Bowl and modern times.Symynkywicz, Jeffery B. (2008). 'The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption, from Asbury Park to Magic.' Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN0-664-23169-1. p. 122. The song was later covered by American metal band Rage Against the Machine. RATM's version is much heavier and harsher than Springsteen's original.

Woody Guthrie's song "The Ballad Of Tom Joad" focuses mainly on the main character's life since he was paroled from "the old McAlester Pen" and follows quite closely to the book.

See also

*'Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century




* Gregory, James N. "Dust Bowl Legacies: the Okie Impact on California, 19391989". 'California History' 1989 68(3): 7485. Issn: 0162-2897

*Saxton, Alexander. "In Dubious Battle: Looking Backward". 'Pacific Historical Review' 2004 73(2): 249262. Issn: 0030-8684 Fulltext: online at Swetswise, Ingenta, Ebsco

* Sobchack, Vivian C. "The Grapes of Wrath (1940): Thematic Emphasis Through Visual Style". 'American Quarterly' 1979 31(5): 596615. Issn: 0003-0678 Fulltext: in Jstor. Discusses the visual style of John Ford's cinematic adaptation of the novel. Usually the movie is examined in terms of its literary roots or its social protest. But the imagery of the film reveals the important theme of the Joad family's coherence. The movie shows the family in closeups, cramped in small spaces on a cluttered screen, isolated from the land and their surroundings. Dim lighting helps abstract the Joad family from the reality of Dust Bowl migrants. The film's emotional and aesthetic power comes from its generalized quality attained through this visual style.

* Windschuttle, Keith. [http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/steinbeck-windschuttle-1941 "Steinbeck's Myth of the Okies".] 'The New Criterion', Vol. 20, No. 10, June 2002.

* Zirakzadeh, Cyrus Ernesto. "John Steinbeck on the Political Capacities of Everyday Folk: Moms, Reds, and Ma Joad's Revolt". 'Polity' 2004 36(4): 595618. Issn: 0032-3497

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