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The Grapes of Wrath
Author John Steinbeck
Type of work Novel
Genre Epic; realistic fiction; social commentary
Time and place written Late May–late October 1938,
Los Gatos, CA
Date of first publication April 14, 1939
Publisher The Viking Press
Narrator An anonymous, all-knowing, historically aware consciousness that
is deeply sympathetic, not only to the migrants but to workers,
the poor, and the dispossessed generally
Point of view The narrative shifts dramatically between different
points of view. In some chapters, the narrator describes events broadly, summarizing
the experiences of a large number of people and providing historical
analysis. Frequently, in the same chapters, the narrator assumes
the voice of a typical individual, such as a displaced farmer or
a crooked used-car salesman, expressing that person’s individual
concerns. When the narrator assumes the voice of an anonymous individual,
the words sometimes sound like what an actual person might say,
but sometimes they form a highly poetic representation of the anonymous
indiv-idual’s thoughts and soul. The chapters focusing on the Joad
family are narrated primarily from an objective point of view, representing conversations
and interactions without focusing on any particular character. Here,
the characters’ actions are presented as an observer might witness
them, without directly representing the characters’ thoughts and
motivations. At certain points, however, the narrator shifts and
presents the Joads from an omniscient point of view, explaining
their psychologies, characters, and motivations in intimate detail.
Tone Mournful, awed, enraged, sympathetic
Tense Mainly past
Setting (time) Late 1930s
Setting (place) Oklahoma, California, and points along the way
Protagonist Tom Joad
Major conflict The disastrous drought of the 1930s
forces farmers to migrate westward to California, pitting migrants
against locals and property owners against the destitute. Moreover,
Tom Joad’s story dramatizes a conflict between the impulse to respond
to hardship and disaster by focusing on one’s own needs and the impulse
to risk one’s safety by working for a common good.
Rising action Tom is released from prison, determined to mind his
own business; Tom encounters the devastation of the Dust Bowl; Casy presents
Tom with his philosophy of the holiness of human beings in general;
Tom is drawn into the workers’ movement.
Climax A policeman murders Casy, and Tom kills the policeman,
making himself an outlaw and committing himself totally to the cause
of workers’ rights rather than the fortunes of his own family.
Falling action Tom’s explanation to Ma of the wisdom he learned from
Casy; Tom’s departure from the rest of the Joad family; Rose of Sharon’s
nursing of the starving man, which symbolizes the community in suffering
formed by the destitute migrants
Themes Man’s inhumanity to man; the saving power of family
and fellowship; the dignity of wrath; the multiplying effects of altruism
Motifs Improvised leadership structures
Symbols Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy; the death of the Joads’
Foreshadowing Many tragedies or reported tragedies in the book serve
to foreshadow future sorrows. Thus, the death of the grandparents and
the reports of men returning in despair from California are sources
of sadness in themselves, but they also seem to bode ill for the
future. Moreover, the descriptive chapters that are interspersed
with the book’s Joad-focused chapters often serve to foreshadow
tragedy: at many points, they portray hardships facing the migrants
at large, which the Joads then encounter in the following chapter
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Grapes of Wrath!