The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does the dialogue in The Grapes of Wrath work to illustrate the setting of the novel?

    Steinbeck uses broken language and colloquialisms in the dialogue between his characters, and (as written out) the conversations are littered with misspellings. The dialogue can be difficult to read at times, but it serves to illustrate the mood and atmosphere of the characters and their lives: although the Joads and their companions are not prosperous or highly educated, they talk in a way that they can understand easily among themselves. Even though it takes patience to decipher, Steinbeck's dialogue is key to an accurate portrayal of how migrant workers spoke and interacted with one another.

  2. 2

    Provide and explain instances from the novel when the characters realize the enormity of the systemic injustices perpetrated against them.

    There are many examples of moral awareness in the novel, and such awareness occurs in monologues, narratives, and conversations between characters. All of these are important to answering this question, and it would be best to include a variety of examples in order to compare and contrast different episodes. For example, it would be effective to include a passage that does not include major characters (such as the scene in which an unnamed tenant argues with an unnamed tractor driver), and contrast such a scene with Muley's monologue about profit margin. In this exchange, Muley addresses two very important characters, Casy and Joad, shortly after seeing them for the first time.

  3. 3

    How does alternating between generic and specific scenes further the plot and the emotional effect of the novel?

    The answer to this question should explain how the novel alternates between narrative descriptions of generic scenes, where no characters are known or named, and lengthier chapters that deal with the characters that have been formally introduced to the reader. Because the generic scenes come first, they provide backdrops for the events that are about to face the major characters, such as Tom Joad, Ma, or Jim Casy. In Steinbeck's novel, the use of juxtaposition highlights the universality of certain experiences and allows the reader to see the far-reaching effects of what the Joad family is experiencing.

  4. 4

    Describe the relationship between the people and their land in The Grapes of Wrath.

    The answer to this question should delve into the many passages in the beginning of the novel that discuss the primal connection between man and the land. When the tractor destroys homes and removes people from the land, this machine is excising portions of human livelihood and memory. Additionally, when a person is forced to leave and will no longer know whether there is a willow tree out front, then that individual has been forced to leave behind an essential part of his or her being. The process of moving is a process of upheaval, both physically and emotionally, since the people are forced to leave behind the things that they hold dear.

  5. 5

    How do the Joads handle the uncertainty of their future in California?

    While the Joads, and many other families, have been promised a land of plentiful produce and good employment in California, these families are still unsure about whether the handbills are telling the truth. Each of the Joads handles the uncertainty differently: Ma focuses only on each day and on taking care of her family from moment to moment, Tom tries to think of nothing in the future (just as he did in prison), and Pa thinks fondly of the produce that he will be able to pick and eat in California. Even though the Joads all discuss the future in different ways, a basic anxiety and uncertainty lies beneath all of their conversations about the future.

  6. 6

    How do the Joads handle the difficulties of the journey to California? Exactly what obstances must the family face?

    The Joads must take care of their limited money and must make due with small living spaces as they travel to California. They have 12 people and many possessions packed on the back of an old jalopy, and the physical elements make the journey unpleasant: the family is exposed to weather conditions constantly. Emotionally, they face obstacles as well: they lose Granma and Grampa en route, and Ma also becomes very sick. In addition, they meet a handful of people who tell them that California doesn't actually offer all that the handbills claim. Despite the doubts introduced by other people and despite their own personal doubts, the Joads continue on. They remain optimistic and believe that, even if other families have faced difficulties, they will be able to find work, save money, and create a better life.

  7. 7

    Why did the number of handbills printed exceed the amount of work available? How does this relate to capitalism and organized labor?

    When answering this question, keep in mind that almost every family traveling west has seen the orange handbill which declares that hundreds of field workers are needed. The Joads refuse to believe that an excess number of handbills would have been printed because printing handbills costs money, but other travelers explain that all this is part of a larger strategy. If there is an excess number of workers, the owners of the land have leverage and can drive pay rates down because men are desperate for work and need to feed their families. Without the organized labor that could stand up to the capitalist owners, the laborers are at the mercy of their bosses. The struggle between capitalism and organized labor is a prominent theme in The Grapes of Wrath, and this theme should be expanded upon in the answer to this essay question.

  8. 8

    Why do the wealthy landowners feel threatened by the government camp, and what do they do about it?

    The wealthy landowners and businessmen have built a formidable opposition to the demands of the laborers, who seek essential human rights and basic lifestyle improvements. In Steinbeck's narrative, the business interests have accumulated an enormous surplus of workers, so that now these interests can easily control labor wages. But because the laborers are staying in a government camp where they are able to elect their own leaders, have their voices heard, and live in a dignified manner, the landowners are concerned that the laborers' frustration with the economic system will grow into a rebellion. In order to stop this, the landowners have planned for a fight to happen at a labor camp dance, which will enable police officers to enter and end the tranquil and confident life of the camp.

  9. 9

    What is the meaning of the title, The Grapes of Wrath? Where does it appear in the novel?

    The answer to this question should explain that the title of the book appears at the very end of the novel, in a long narrative quote. The answer should also explain the phrase's origins in the Book of Revelation and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. In addition, an effective essay on this topic should acknowledge that there have been different interpretations of the title; still, try to offer an explanation that points to the broader themes of the novel, such as oppression, greed, suffering, and justice.

  10. 10

    How does labor organizing bring the hope of better labor conditions?

    For the migrants depicted in The Grapes of Wrath, wages have been driven down by a high supply of laborers and a low demand for work. Internal competition for jobs has driven these wages even lower. Laborers who form organizations are able to communicate with one another and to call attention to wages that are lower than they are willing to accept -- wages that they cannot survive on. By gathering together, laborers have greater leverage against powerful landowners.