“The grapes of wrath”, analysis of the novel by John Steinbeck


The grapes of wrath, a book that was published in 1939 by American novelist John Steinbeck. The book was so well crafted that it received the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It gained popularity and became an American classic. It courageously highlights the severity of the Great Depression and the challenges of migrant farmworkers. However, being popular did not save the book from being banned in a couple of cities. One of them is Kern County, in California, because of its border to Mexico. Some speculate the ban was politically motivated.

Idea of the book

We follow the Joad family as they move from city to city, facing all kinds of hardship. Steinbeck depicts man’s inhumanity to man in a masterful way. Migrant farmers are forced to turn against their brethren just to survive. They are treated like animals by landowners, and there is a clear divide between the rich and the poor. The migrants and poor people are identified as the source of evil and suffering.

We witness the saving power of family and fellowship. When the Joad’s meet the Wilsons, they merge as one. Through hardships, they commit to one another. One loss becomes their loss. Their livelihood depends on their union.

Steinbeck shows us the dignity of wrath at every turn. They refuse to be broken by the challenges they face, from some members leaving the family to others dying. The multiplying effects of selfishness are brought out clearly in this text. We see the greed of people who are only persuaded by self-interest. As a result of this, thousands of families sink into absolute poverty and destitution.

Detailed plot of the book

After being released from prison, Tom Joad goes back to his farm and home in Oklahoma City. He meets Jim Casy, a former preacher, whose beliefs are not what they used to be. His only idea at the moment is equality among people. When they get to Toms’s home, they find no one. An old neighbor, Muley Graves, passes by to inform them that everyone has been forced off the land. Most families have now gone to California to look for work.

Tom and Jim make their way to Toms’ uncle Johns’s place. He finds his family in the activity of packing up their belongings for the long journey to California. On the exhausting trip to California, a bitter Grampa Joad passes away. He did not want to leave his land behind.

The Joad family meets Sairy and Ivy Wilson. They are invited to travel with the family, and at the California border, Sairy becomes unable to continue with the journey. She is sick.

The first days in California prove to be quite tragic. Granma Joad dies, and the job market is depleted. Moving from camp to camp, the family struggles to find food. Connie, the husband to Tom’s sister, Rose of Sharon leaves, and so does Noah, the eldest of the Joad children.

In California, they are labeled “okies,” because of the flood of newcomers and migrants. The available work pays so little that it is hardly enough to buy a decent meal for a whole family. Tom and several other men get into an argument that turns very aggresive. Jim Casy strikes the sheriff unconscious and is promptly arrested.

A government-run camp proves to be hosting to the Joads, and they find work and accommodation. Upon learning that police want to shut down the camp, Tom alerts and prepares other men. They avert the crisis. However, the Joads have to move on.

Their next employment comes in the form of picking fruit and along with a decent wage. Tom runs into Jim, who has been released from jail. Jim has made a few enemies among the elite landowners. The police soon kill Jim in the presence of Tom. Tom retaliates and kills a police officer.

Tom goes into hiding, and the family moves into a cotton farm. Fearing for her sons safety, Ma Joad finds Tom and sends him away. Tom takes on Jim’s previous work of organizing workers. The end of the cotton picking season means the end of work.

The floods set in, and Rose of Sharon gives birth. Unfortunately, her child is stillborn. Forced through grieving, Ma Joad is desperate to find a safe place for the family. She finds a barn for the family. In the barn, there is a dying man and his son. He is starving to death.

Realizing that Rose of Sharon is producing milk, Ma Joad instructs her to nurse the dying man off of her breast milk.

Problems of the text

Profanity, communism, and sexual depictions. Parents and teachers do not accept the book as literature suitable for teaching. It is full of foul language, violence, and obscene sexual content. Formal objections by religious organizations have been made to protect young readers.

The novels’ promotion of labor unionization led to riots of workers everywhere. Landowners and local business people advocated for the burning of this book because of the negative consequences it had on businesses.

The book has been proved to be historically inaccurate in rendering historical facts, misplaced Oklahoma Geography, and stereotyped characterizations of various characters.

Description of main characters

  • Tom Joad. The main protagonist of the text. He is the favorite child and a fierce protector. He earns the respect of his family and the workers he organizes.
  • Grampa Joad. Armed with a foul mouth and a cruel temper, Tom Joads’ grandfather delights in shocking others with sinful talk and tormenting his wife. His family is forced to drug him to get him to leave the land.
  • Granma Joad. Toms’ grandmother delights in casting hellfire at her husband. However, she soon dies after her husband dies.
  • Ma Joad. She is the healer and arbitrator of the family arguments. She keeps the family together. She is the matriarch.
  • Pa Joad. Toms’ father is a good-hearted man. Unable to find work after directing his family to California, he finds himself looking to Ma Joad for strength and leadership. It shames him.
  • Jim Casy. In the book, Jim articulates unity. He is a true friend of Tom Joad and even goes to prison while protecting his friend.
  • Rose of Sharon. Ma and Pa Joads’ eldest daughter. She is also Connies’ wife. She begins her journey in the novel, pregnant and has dreams of having a grand life. However, harsh realities ground her when her husband leaves the family, and her baby is stillborn. She emerges stronger and becomes like Ma Joad.
  • Al Joad. The youngest son of the Joad family. He is a competent mechanic and idolizes Tom. However, we see him emerging as his own man when he falls in love.
  • Connie. Rose of Sharon’s husband. He leaves and abandons his pregnant wife and the Joads. This act of selfishness surprises no one in the family. Rose of Sharon, however, gets the shock of her life.
  • Noah Joad. The eldest of the Joad siblings. He is slightly deformed. He is slow and quiet and leaves his family behind at the California border. He feels that his parents do not love him.
  • Uncle John. Tom’s uncle who never forgives himself for his wife’s’ death.


Steinbeck clearly states his reason for writing the novel was to bring everyone who brought about the great depression to shame. To quote the book, ” for man, unlike any other thing, organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.”

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