The Grapes of Wrath

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The Grapes of Wrath
JohnSteinbeck TheGrapesOfWrath.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorJohn Steinbeck
Cover artistElmer Hader
CountryUnited States
PublisherThe Viking Press-James Lloyd
Publication date
April 14, 1939[1]
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This article is about the novel. For other uses, see Grapes of Wrath (disambiguation).
The Grapes of Wrath
JohnSteinbeck TheGrapesOfWrath.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorJohn Steinbeck
Cover artistElmer Hader
CountryUnited States
PublisherThe Viking Press-James Lloyd
Publication date
April 14, 1939[1]

The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award[2] and Pulitzer Prize[3] for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962.[4]

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, agricultural industry changes and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. 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.[5][6][7] 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, Tom meets former preacher Jim Casy, whom he remembers from his childhood, and the two travel together. When they arrive at Tom's childhood farm home, they find it deserted. Disconcerted and confused, Tom and Casy meet their old neighbor, Muley Graves, who tells them the family has gone to stay at Uncle John Joad's home nearby. Graves goes on to tell them that the banks have evicted all the farmers off their land, but he refuses to leave the area.

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 there. The Joads are seduced by this advertising and invest everything they have into the journey. Although leaving Oklahoma would be breaking parole, Tom decides it is a risk worth taking. Casy is invited to join the family as well.

Going west on Route 66, the Joad family discovers 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, Granpa dies and is buried in a field; Granma dies close to the California state line, both Noah (the eldest Joad son) and Connie Rivers (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, a lack of laborers' 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.

How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.

— Chapter 19

In response to the exploitation of laborers, there are people who attempt to organize the workers to join a labor union, 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 Casy's fatal beating and kills the attacker, becoming a fugitive. The Joads later leave the orchard for a cotton farm, where Tom is at risk of being identified for the homicide 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. In the final chapter of the book the family take shelter from the flood in an old barn, where inside they find a young boy and his father who is dying of starvation. Rose of Sharon takes pity on the man and offers him her breast to feed off and save him from dying. This final act is significant as it is the only action taken by a member of the Joad family that is not futile.



This is the beginning—from "I" to "we". If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into "I", and cuts you off forever from the "we".
— Chapter 14

The novel developed from "The Harvest Gypsies", a series of seven articles that ran in the San Francisco News, from October 5 to 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.[8])[9]


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,[10] 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 14:19–20, 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[edit]

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.[11]

Critical reception[edit]

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."[9] The Grapes of Wrath is referred to as a Great American Novel.[12][13]

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."[14] According to The New York Times it was the best-selling book of 1939 and 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940.[2] In that month it won the National Book Award, favorite fiction book of 1939, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[2] Soon it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[3]

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'.[9] Some accused Steinbeck of exaggerating camp conditions to make a political point. Steinbeck had visited the camps well before publication of the novel[15] 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.[4] Time magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005".[16] In 2009, The Daily Telegraph also included the novel in its "100 novels everyone should read".[17] 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. In 1999, French newspaper Le Monde of Paris ranked The Grapes of Wrath seventh on its list of the 100 best books of the 20th century. In the UK, it was listed at number 29 of the "nation's best loved novel" on the BBC's 2003 survey The Big Read.[18]


In film[edit]

The book was quickly made into a famed, 1940 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.

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."

In July 2013 Steven Spielberg announced his plans to direct a remake of The Grapes of Wrath for DreamWorks.[19][20]

In music[edit]

Woody Guthrie's song, "The Ballad of Tom Joad" from the album Dust Bowl Ballads (1940), focuses mainly on the main character's life since he was paroled from "the old McAlester Pen" and follows the book quite closely.[citation needed]

American rock singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen named his eleventh studio album The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995), 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.[21]

The song Dust Bowl Dance by Mumford & Sons is based on the novel.

Bad Religion have a song entitled "Grains of Wraith" on their 2007 album, New Maps of Hell. Bad Religion lead vocalist, Greg Graffin is a fan of Steinbeck's.[22][better source needed][not in citation given]

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.[23]

In television[edit]

On April 16, 2008, the television series South Park aired an episode entitled "Over Logging". Written and directed by Trey Parker, this episode parodies Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, as the Marsh family heads to California to find more Internet.[24]

In theatre[edit]

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.[25] One of these performances was shown on PBS the following year.

In 1990, the Illegitimate Players theater company in Chicago produced Of Grapes and Nuts, an original, satirical mash-up of The Grapes of Wrath and Steinbeck's acclaimed novella Of Mice and Men.[26]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Grapes of Wrath, a classic for today?". BBC News. April 14, 2009. Retrieved August 26, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "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).
  3. ^ a b "Novel" (Winners 1917–1947). The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Osterling, Anders. "Nobel Prize in Literature 1962 – Presentation Speech". Retrieved February 18, 2007. 
  5. ^ Emma Kat Richardson (March 23, 2011). "The Grapes of Wrath: The Dust Bowl Revamped". Revue Magazine. 
  6. ^ "AP: English Literature". CollegeBoard. Retrieved May 9, 2012. 
  7. ^ "The Big Read | The Grapes of Wrath". National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved May 9, 2012. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b c Cordyack, Brian. "20th-Century American Bestsellers: John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath". Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved February 18, 2007. 
  10. ^ DeMott, Robert (1992). Robert DeMott's Introduction to The Grapes of Wrath. Viking Penguin, a Division of Penguin Books USA, Inc. pp. xviii. ISBN 0-14-018640-9. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Dana, Gioia. "The Grapes of Wrath Radio Show - Transcript". The Big Read. The National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  Richard Rodriguez is a famous American writer. In this interview he referred to the Grapes of Wrath as The Great American Novel: "There hasn't been anything like this novel since it was written. And this is the great American novel that everyone keeps waiting for but it has been written now."
  13. ^ Nixon, Rob. "The Grapes of Wrath". This Month Spotlight. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2010-09-22.  Nixon quotes John Springer, author of The Fondas (Citadel, 1973), a book about Henry Fonda and his role in film version of The Grapes of Wrath: "The Great American Novel made one of the few enduring Great American Motion Pictures."
  14. ^ Lisca, Peter (1958). The Wide World of John Steinbeck. Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 
  15. ^ Shillinglaw, Susan; Benson, Jackson J (February 2, 2002). Of Men and Their Making: The Non-Fiction Of John Steinbeck. London: Penguin. Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  16. ^ "All Time 100 Novels". Time. October 16, 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  17. ^ "100 novels everyone should read". The Daily Telegraph. January 16, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2012. 
  18. ^ "The Big Read", BBC, April 2003. Retrieved January 12, 2014
  19. ^ "Steven Spielberg eyes Grapes of Wrath". 4 July 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  20. ^ "Steven Spielberg in talks to remake 'The Grapes Of Wrath'". 4 July 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  21. ^ Symynkywicz, Jeffery B. (2008). The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption, from Asbury Park to Magic. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0-664-23169-1. p. 122.
  22. ^ Books | The Answer | The Bad Religion Page - Since 1995
  23. ^ Michael Anthony, "'Grapes' is a sweet, juicy production", Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2/12/2007
  24. ^ Modell, Josh. "Over Logging". AV Club. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  25. ^ Internet Broadway Database: The Grapes of Wrath Production Credits
  26. ^ Lawrence Bommer, "Sending Up Steinbeck," Chicago Reader, 11/8/1990


  • Garcia, Reloy. "The Rocky Road to Eldorado: The Journey Motif in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath." Steinbeck Quarterly 14.03-04 (Summer/Fall 1981): 83-93
  • Gregory, James N. "Dust Bowl Legacies: the Okie Impact on California, 1939–1989". California History 1989 68(3): 74–85. Issn: 0162-2897
  • Saxton, Alexander. "In Dubious Battle: Looking Backward". Pacific Historical Review 2004 73(2): 249–262. 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): 596–615. 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. "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): 595–618. Issn: 0032-3497

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