The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968)

The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968)

Type of Work:

Social / political criticism


Oklahoma and California; 1930s

Principal Characters

Tod Joad, a recent parolee in his mid-twenties

Ma and Pa Joad, a strong, middle-aged Oklahoma couple

Noah Joad, their strange eldest son

Al, their wild sixteen-year-old

Rose of Sharon, eldest Joad daughter, married and pregnant

Gramma and Grampa Joad, an earthy old couple

Jim Casy, a preacher and, later, a labor agitator

Other Joad children

Story Overveiw

As Tom Joad hitchhiked his way home after a four-year stay in prison
for killing a man in a fight, he met up with Jim Casy, a former preacher
who was returning from a sojourn in the "wilderness," where he had been
soul-searching. Tom invited Jim to walk with him on the dusty road to the

Joad family farm, and to stay for dinner. Arriving there, he saw that "the
small unpainted house was mashed at one corner, and it had been pushed
off its foundations so that it slumped at an angle." The farm was deserted.

Muley Graves, a near-by tenant farmer, told Tom that his family had moved
to their Uncle john\'s house: " . . . They was going to stick it out when
the bank come to tractorin\' off the place." A long drought was making barren
ground out of what had once been fertile farmland.

Early the following morning Tom and Casy walked the eight miles to Uncle

John\'s farm. As they approached, Tom saw his Pa working on a truck in the
yard. Pa\'s "eyes looked at Tom\'s face, and then gradually his brain became
aware of what he saw." With Tom\'s homecoming, the Joad family unit was
complete. Now Ma and Pa, the pregnant oldest daughter Rose of Sharon, and
her husband Connie, Grampa, Gramma, and all the rest started packing: they
were all "goin\' to California" to start over as fruit pickers. Like thousands
of other displaced tenant farmers, the Joads, spurred on by the promise
of good wages and sunshine, sold what they could, bought a used car and
headed out on Highway 66, "a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking
land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership."

After the supplies and tools were loaded into the old Hudson, which
teen-aged Al load had converted into a truck, the Joad family and Casy
(twelve people in all) squeezed into what little space was left and started

During the first overnight stop, Gramma suddenly was hit by a stroke
and died. They buried him on the roadside.

Soon the loads met up with the Wilsons, a married couple with a broken-down
car. After Al had fixed the vehicle, Ma and Pa joad invited the Wilsons
to travel with them. "You won\'t be no burden. Each\'Il help each, an\' we\'ll
all git to California," Ma said.

The two groups "crawled westward as a unit", suffering along the way
from too little money, not enough food, dilapidated vehicles, profiteering
junk dealers and overpriced replacement parts. Eastward-bound migrants
warned the travelers that working conditions in California were bad; but
they still pressed on toward the "promised land."

Crossing the border into California, the family camped next to a river
that ran parallel to the town of Needles. They\'d wait until nightfall to
cross the desert. As Tom, Noah and Pa sat down in the shallow river water
to wash off the road grime, they were joined by an itinerant father and
his son who aprised them of the treatment they could expect in California:

"Okie use\'ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you\'re a dirty sonof-a-bitch.

Okie means you\'re scum."

Later that day, Tom\'s aloof and backward brother Noah notified him that
he was staying to live by the river, and then wandered away. That evening,
after saying good-bye to the Wilsons, the Joads began the last leg of their
journey. Early during the desert crossing, Gramma quietly died, but Ma
waited until they reached Bakersfield before she told anyone. After another
roadside burial, the family drove on into a "Hooverville" - one of many
designated migrant camps opened during the Depression. Like other Hoovervilles,
it was a haotic community; "little gray tents, shacks, and c cars were
scattered about at random." But the Joads elected to stay.

On their first evening in the camp, two men in a shiny sedan drove up,
a labor contractor and a local sheriff. The contractor had come out to
offer jobs to the migrants, but when he declined to reveal the actual wage
he was prepared to pay, a fight ensued. Tom and Casy got