10 Things You Should Know About The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Cover of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck...
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I read a lot. But, no matter the genre or author I veer toward in the moment, John Steinbeck is and will always be my all time favorite author.

The first book of his I read was “East of Eden” when I was in the fourth grade. Perhaps a little too young to understand all the concepts, but it was the first time I clearly remember the characters, sights and sounds of a book crystallizing in my mind’s eye.

One Saturday afternoon I stumbled upon “East of Eden” starring James Dean playing on the TV.

Somehow I was alone and able to watch my channel without being forced to change it by parents or siblings who had no interest in classic movies. Unfortunately, I was only able to watch about half an hour before my sisters rudely changed the channel to some inane cartoon.

But, in that brief moment in time I fell in love for the first time. James Dean has been my favorite actor ever since. The way he talked, his mannerisms, his beautiful face and that painful, smoldering look in his eyes that just breaks your heart.

The next time I went to the library I searched out the book and gobbled it up along with every other Steinbeck novel my library offered.

Over the years I have read and re-read many of his books and each time fall deeper in love with Steinbeck’s writing style. I only wish words would flow so effortlessly and colorfully from my own fingertips.

The Grapes of Wrath is second on my list of Steinbeck favorites. It is one that is difficult to read because the truth is overpowering, but you will savor every turn of the page.

Here are 10 Things you should know about The Grapes Of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath was written by John Steinbeck and developed out a series of article he wrote for the San Francisco News called “The Harvest Gypsies”. These articles ran in the paper from October 5 through October 12, 1936. This series of stories was about the migrant workers who came from the Midwest to work in the California agriculture industry.


The novel, Grapes of Wrath, based on those articles was published in 1939 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.


Although categorized as fiction, this is really an epic work of realistic fiction and social commentary on the people, places and signs of the time.


The time frame is the late 1930’s during the Great Depression. The novel begins with the Joad family in Oklahoma and follows them on their journey to California.

Protagonist and Symbolism

Tom Joad is the protagonist of this novel, he is also the symbol of growth and rebirth. The story begins just after Tom is release from prison where he served a sentence for homicide. Upon his release he is a selfish man determined to mind his own business. But through his journey and living as a migrant worker in California, the experiences with his mother and the former preacher Casey philosophy of the Oversoul, he builds concern for his family’s welfare and becomes the head of the family. He also is concerned with the welfare of all families and by the end is willing to sacrifice his life for others.

Major Theme

The horrible treatment of the migrant workers is highlighting in the story of the Joads. The novel humanizes the horrors of daily life for the migrant workers and the effects of the Great Depression and poverty on them and everyone around them. Steinbeck’s novel is a plea to end the inhumane treatment to his fellow man.

Major Conflict

Due to the 1930s drought which caused the Dust Bowl, families were forced to moved west in hope of a better life. Poverty stricken, they took work wherever they could find it to keep themselves and their families alive. This pitted the current migrant workers against the incoming workers, against the property owners and the destitute. Tom Joad symbolized the instant human response to respond to a disaster by focusing on one’s own needs and the underlying need to support his fellow man and work toward a common good.

Minor Themes

Humanity Must Adapt to to Survive

The Grapes of Wrath shows that in order for humanity to survive and thrive it must adapt to the changing environment. The migrant workers must learn how to live in their squalid conditions, and make them better on their own before working toward a greater good. The landowners must learn to adapt to new rules if they expect to continue to own and farm their land. Families must learn to adapt to uncontrollable change to keep their families together.  This underlies another minor theme of Family Survival.

Dignity and the Strength of the Human Spirit

The hardships faced by the migrant workers just trying to survive and keep their families alive and together puts most characters in survival mode at almost an animalistic level. Despite these hardships, the Joads act proudly and even through their search for food and shelter, try to maintain a sense of human dignity.


This is a tragic fictional story build on the truth of the devastation of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and the human will to survive. Although the mood for the majority of the novel is dark and depressing, there are moments of light-hearted humor providing a little respite and break from the doom and gloom. In the end the reader can see the human spirit’s ability to survive against all odds.


Although it was a movie that first brought me into Steinbeck’s world, the images he created in my head are much more vivid than those on the screen.


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