Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

Hardcover, 1967



Set during the Great Depression, it traces the migration of an Oklahoma Dust Bowl family to California and their subsequent hardships as migrant farm workers.

Library's rating


(6601 ratings; 4.1)


Media reviews

Seventy years after The Grapes of Wrath was published, its themes – corporate greed, joblessness – are back with a vengeance. ... The peaks of one's adolescent reading can prove troughs in late middle age. Life moves on; not all books do. But 50 years later, The Grapes of Wrath seems as savage as ever, and richer for my greater awareness of what Steinbeck did with the Oklahoma dialect and with his characters.
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It is Steinbeck's best novel, i.e., his toughest and tenderest, his roughest written and most mellifluous, his most realistic and, in its ending, his most melodramatic, his angriest and most idyllic. It is "great" in the way that Uncle Tom's Cabin was great—because it is inspired propaganda, half tract, half human-interest story, emotionalizing a great theme.
Steinbeck has written a novel from the depths of his heart with a sincerity seldom equaled. It may be an exaggeration, but it is the exaggeration of an honest and splendid writer.
Mr. Steinbeck's triumph is that he has created, out of a remarkable sympathy and understanding, characters whose full and complete actuality will withstand any scrutiny.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
"The concrete highway was edged with a mat of tangled, broken, dry grass, and the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog's coat, and foxtails to tangle in a horse's fetlocks, and clover burrs to fasten in sheep's wool; sleeping life waiting to be spread and dispersed, every seed armed with an appliance of dispersal, twisting darts and parachutes for the wind, little spears and balls of tiny thorns, and all waiting for animals and for the wind, for a man's trouser cuff or the hem of a woman's skirt, all passive but armed with appliances of activity, still, but each possessed of the anlage of movement."

What a poet Steinbeck is! But what does anlage mean?

1. Biology The initial clustering of embryonic cells from which a part or an organ develops; primordium.
2. A genetic predisposition to a given trait or personality characteristic.
3. A fundamental principle; the foundation for a future development.

All three will come into play in this story. The Joads and others in Oklahoma don't want to move, don't want to change, but in the Great Depression, dispossessed of their farms, they have no choice. Handbills promising work in California entice thousands to take to the highway, Route 66, and migrate west. Stoic and determined, the Okies (a derogatory term out West), sell all they can, and pile high on old cars what they'll need for the journey and their new life. This much most people know without having read the book.

What they may not know is the beauty of Steinbeck's writing, and how drawn into the Joads' lives the reader becomes. Ma Joad is the key to all of it - "from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty." She "seemed to realize that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone." That realization is sorely tested at times, and its truth shines through in what was, for me, a jaw-dropping ending.

Tom Joad the son is a passionate man, and a visionary, who incisively understands one problem after another and how to effectively address it. His integrity is unassailable; the difficulty he faces is keeping himself from losing his temper and striking out at the greedy oppressors and powerdrunk false authorities. His closest traveling companion is the ex-preacher Casey, who once used his exaltatory power to seduce, and now wants only to fully understand humanity and spirit without the trappings of religion. His eulogy for a deceased old man is filled with honesty rather than homilies. "I woudn' pray for an ol' fella that's dead. He's awright. He's got a job to do, but it's all laid out for 'im an' there's on'y one way to do it. . . . if I was to pray, it'd be for folks who that don' know which way to turn." And for all the salmon-like drive west to generate new lives, there are a lot of folks who end up needing that prayer.

All of the characters in this story are convincingly drawn, and the depictions of their ordeals vivid. When I grew up I used to read, and hear people ask, Who is going to write the Great American Novel? That came to mind several times during The Grapes of Wrath and I thought, I'm reading it.

Anlage of movement. There's the clustering of embryonic cells in a young woman's stressful pregnancy that symbolizes the new birth sought at the end of their travels. The Joads (and others) have genetic predispositions to prevail somehow, and to help others no matter how little there is to be shared. Finally, there's a fundamental drive to build in California a foundation for the family's future. Along the way we experience the dirt, the hunger, the passion, the inequities, bodies giving out, the will to survive, the enormous challenge of finding work and the next meal. This is an epic book, filled not with gods, but with people we know, or wish we did, or wish we didn't.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Steinbeck's Pulitzer Award-winning book tells the heartbreaking story of the Joads, a fictional family of displaced farmers from Oklahoma, forced out of their homes because of years of bad crops in an area ravaged by the dust bowls of the 1930's. The Joads set out on the road in a jalopy packed to the brim with the few belongings they will need while they make their way to California, where there is a promise of plenty of jobs and prosperity.

In this social commentary, Steinbeck alternates between the narration of the Joads' progress, and vignettes describing the realities and hardships which directly affected approximately half a million Americans who sought to better their lives of destitution and near-starvation, prompted by advertisements which promised plenty of work picking the ripe harvests in California. The 'Oakies', the term then used to describe these desperate people, were despised by their fellow countrymen because of their extreme poverty and forced vagrancy, but Steinbeck squarely places the blame on big business and the drive for profit at all cost, which was the reason why the farmers were first driven off their lands and then kept in a cycle of poverty they had very little hope of getting out of. The novel received much critical acclaim and was widely read when it was published in 1939, and Steinbeck was later awarded the Novel Prize largely because of it. But not surprisingly, he was also harshly criticized and labeled as a 'Red sympathizer' by those very same people he condemned in the novel.

This novel is now among my all-time favourites. This was my second reading of it and I found it satisfying on more levels than I can describe, and will no doubt read it again and again.
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LibraryThing member ChelleBearss
I find it very hard to believe that this novel was first published over 70 years ago as some of the main topics, like unions and labor disputes, are still affecting people today. Steinbeck took real life occurrences and turned them into a masterful novel about survival and strength.

Tom Joad and his family have lost their land during the depression and Oklahoma Dustbowl and have decided to migrate to California for work after seeing a handbill advertising the need for fruit pickers. Unfortunately they are not the only family with this idea and the highways are packed with thousands or hundreds of thousands of people trying to find a better life.

After heartbreak on the road the family arrives in California and they quickly realize that it won't be as easy as they had thought. With thousands of workers applying for every open position it becomes very hard to find work. When they do find work the wages are well below what they should be because the farmers know that for every worker that wants 30 cents an hour there is a man with a starving family that will work for 20 cents so he can bring home some food that day.

This book will pull your heart strings in one paragraph and make you angry in the next. Steinbeck does a great job of taking you on the journey with the Joads and you can feel their pain and their happiness. The joy they feel when they see the California valley or when they find a government camp with working toilets and running hot water. The heartbreak and pain they feel when a member dies or when there is not enough to eat. You can be proud at the strength they hold and how they take care of each other, even in their weakest states. This is a novel that will stay with me for much longer than the time it took to read it.

"Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."
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LibraryThing member Fourpawz2
This Great Depression-era novel was virtually unknown to me before this; I knew of its existence, of course, but never even thought of reading it before.

There isn’t much of a background of Great Depression suffering in my family; one grandfather had a government job and the other worked as a handyman for his mother, keeping all of her real estate properties fixed up. So, while no one was living high, wide and handsome, certainly nobody was suffering like the Joad family was, either.

It is one of those stories where people go from bad to worse and worse still. Somehow the core members of the family kept going on, even though it was hard to see how they were going to make it. A number of characters in the book are rather weak and confused by the way their world has come unglued, but fortunately for them, both Ma Joad and her son, the ex-convict, Tom, are made of sterling stuff and though they never are able to find a really good situation for the family, they keep their heads and manage to move the rest of the family along, keeping them from wallowing fatally and forever in the latest catastrophe to hit the family.

I found Steinbeck most powerful in the chapters that did not deal with the Joad story directly – the ones where he spoke of how things were – chapters that had a clear non-fiction cast to them. It was very easy to see how the Unions came to be; they had to come into being, or else who knows what kind of awful things might have happened – revolution, mass starvation and other things too horrible to think about. The only thing I wonder about is how the Unions have come to be in the sorry condition that they are in the present time. I wonder, as I have for some time, if they will ever recover and after reading this book, I have to think that they have to or else things might slip backward.

The end of the book did seem a little disjointed to me – as if Steinbeck did not know exactly how to end it. For me, that last scene with Rose of Sharon and the starving man was of the – “What?! Where the hell did that come from?” variety. But perhaps it has some great ‘significance’ that I missed. However, I suspect that even if it did have some great meaning that I did not get, I still would not have liked it very well.

Still, over all, a very good book and one I should have read a long, long time ago.
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LibraryThing member santhony
I’m fifty years old, I’ve read literally thousands of books, and I’m not aware that I’ve ever read a novel written by John Steinbeck. Recognizing this deficiency, I ordered a Steinbeck collection, seven of his most celebrated works including The Grapes of Wrath. I vaguely recall seeing the film starring Henry Fonda, and am well aware of the plot and the historical backdrop, but nothing can take the place of reading the work itself.

As most know, the book details the westward migration of the Joad family, as they are uprooted from their Oklahoma homestead by the evils of the Great Depression, the Oklahoma dust bowl and the advent of mechanized farming. The family harbors visions of milk and honey awaiting their arrival in California, or so they are assured by the numerous handbills promising plentiful work and bountiful riches. What await them instead are rapacious labor recruiters, unfriendly natives and slow but sure starvation.

Steinbeck certainly succeeds in painting a vivid and stark picture of the hopelessness faced by the migrants. His chapters alternate between “big picture” overviews and the particular heartbreaks and hazards faced by the Joads in particular. The story is an education in economics, labor relations, politics and human nature. In this day and age, it is difficult to conceive of children literally starving to death in the shadow of the most productive agricultural land in the country, much of it lying fallow and off limits to those that were capable of growing the food to nourish their own families.

This is a very powerful novel, both with regard to the emotions that it taps and the beliefs and conceptions that one holds. It provides a sharp contrast between a period when so many were desperate to work for as little as something to eat, to one in which so many demand so much without having to lift a finger. There must be a happy medium.
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LibraryThing member Hantsuki
I probably could not write a review at this point that will do this book justice, but I would like to touch on a few brief points that tend to bother critics about this book. The Grapes of Wrath is a very much intimate novel that draws you in just as the sentimental novel Uncle Tom's Cabin does. As a matter of fact, while I was reading it, as audacious as it sounds, I felt like Steinbeck was sitting right next to me telling me himself about the issues he was concerned about during the Great Depression. I do believe this is why some people may not appreciate the book as much as I do; not everyone wants to captivated by all of the emotions in the novel, and I get that, but I think that's one of the reasons why this novel was so astounding.

Even though some people felt that the ending came too suddenly, Steinbeck argued that he had the ending in mind the whole time he was writing which would make sense. Steinbeck wanted people to know how it felt to be one of the dispossessed - a stranger in your homeland where food and land are a plenty yet you have no permission to have any of it. When the Joads have finally reached the end of the novel, they are left in destitution yet they still have the humanity to help complete strangers out because those are the kind of people they are. Thus, the ending didn't just come out of the blue, but the Joads stayed in character throughout the whole novel while of course one character experienced a significant transformation in the end. What that transformation is, I'll leave you to find out for yourself.
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
It was high school required reading. I was on a three day weekend vacation with my parents, and I sat in a window seat in a little cabin we had rented - it was raining - and I read this straight through. I especially liked the non-Joad family chapters that described the migrants movements and struggle as a whole. It spoke to me. A definite re-read for the future, and most highly recommended to anyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
This was an astonishingly gripping account of the plight of migrant workers during the depression. I could feel the hunger of the children hanging around the stew bowl, waiting to eat the left-overs. The desperation of the family as they moved from one camp to another in search of work was heartbreaking. I didn't really 'get' the ending which was bizarre, but apparently the author was determined to have it that way. I haven't really got on with Steinbeck's other works but this was absolutely spot on.… (more)
LibraryThing member fothpaul
A very moving piece of work which is very well structured. The great depression in America is a topic which I didn’t know very much about. The story of the Joad family’s journey across to California to find work is one of survival and determination.

Steinbeck captures the desperation and despair of the situation perfectly and I felt really dragged into the hopelessness the characters experienced. It’s extremely difficult to imagine what people went through at this time, but reading this book has made me think about it quite a lot.

The main story of the characters is interspersed with more poetic observations on the time by the author. These help break up the story and helped to reiterate that this was a situation which affected more than just one family.

I found the manipulation of the desperate migrants by the large corporations to be quite disturbing, a sad reflection upon the human capacity for greed without thinking of the consequences. This is nicely counterbalanced by the generosity of the migrants towards one another, sharing food and helping each other out. Their generosity is even more pronounced as they are living hand to mouth and have little to spare. There are many lessons which can be taken from reading this book and they still apply to the present day.

I will definitely be looking into the authors catalogue as the writing style and content of the book were superb. The book is not sweetness and light, but it does have a lot to say on human spirit and compassion.
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LibraryThing member endersreads
I think that given our economy, and Donald Trump's statement that "The coming depression will make the last one look like a Sunday picnic", has gotten many people interested in Steinbeck's little jewel here. It's very, very good! I blazed through it, unable to put it down. I came away shocked at how well American history had been hidden from me--for good reason--over 7 Million Humans STARVED while produce was doused with gasoline, animals slaughtered, limed and buried--all to rot while humans starved. Why? Because no profit could be made! The monster has returned today, in 2008. I have a few questions I would like answered, well many actually, but a few concerning this here story... What happened to Tom? Did he go off to revolutionize (Tom should represent us, the readers--perpetual revolution--Trotsky told us too)? What happened to the Joads and Uncle John? I suspect they starved. Where the hell did Connie get to? I doubt he starved, bastard--probably became a deputy. The ending was bizarre and left me with strange mental images of Rose of Sharon. Like Muley, in this society I'm just like a damn ol' graveyard ghos'. I am extremely proud of these early American people--we are losing them and they won't be replaced.… (more)
LibraryThing member yourotherleft
In The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck tells the story of one family, the Joads, who have been evicted from their dry Oklahoma land during the Great Depression and have been forced to choose to migrate to California where there are supposedly jobs for the taking in a veritable land of milk and honey. Steinbeck introduces us to the Joads as they hopefully make ready to travel the width of the country in a cobbled together jalopy with what little money they were able to get from selling off most of their belongings. In dialogue rich with realistic dialect, we come to know Tom, recently paroled from prison for killing a man; his Pa, a man nearly beaten down from his circumstances; Ma, a woman with an iron will who will stop at nothing to keep her family from falling apart; his sister pregnant Rose of Sharon whose husband is full of dreams for their future; and Uncle John who has spent a lifetime trying to face or escape his imagined sin. Through the pages, readers come to an intimate knowledge of the family as they head west helping who they can though they are struggling to make it themselves. It's perhaps because readers come to know and love the family in all its strengths and its failings that makes The Grapes of Wrath a difficult read to swallow.

There is absolutely no subtlety nor any particular artfulness to be found in the Joads' story. Never for a moment do readers need to wonder where Steinbeck stands on the events that are taking place. Steinbeck is more than eager to hammer his points home as he preachily derides the corporate farmers whose tractors and hired hands eliminate the connection between men and the land that sustains them. He flays California landowners whose vast fields of hardy crops do nothing for the migrants starving for lack of work. He paints heavy handed pictures of people starving in Hoovervilles even while farmers discard crops to to maintain prices.

If, indeed, there is art in Steinbeck's American classic, it lives in the alternating chapters where Steinbeck interrupts his telling of the Joads' journey, to generalize the very much shared experience of the thousands of migrants who fled to California during the Depression. In them, he captures the haggling for a junk car, the staggering number of people heading west fed only on dreams, the growing anger of powerless men, the etiquette of camping, and even the dances that give struggling families a break, however brief, from their sufferings. In these chapters, Steinbeck lets the many voices be heard, he paints pictures with dialogue, and his words even carry the very rhythm of the dance.

There are many things to like and to dislike about The Grapes of Wrath. It is preachy, heavy handed, depressing, frustrating, perhaps even exaggerated, but it is also a profound, and perhaps even hopeful story, of a family's strength in the face of unbelievable struggle. Steinbeck's writing gives poetry to populism, and even now, The Grapes of Wrath has the enduring power to cause the righteous anger that can bring about change that so much of society still desperately needs.
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LibraryThing member CareBear36
I had to read this book for a class in high school. At first, like any immature reader, all I could think was, "This is so boring," "I hate this book," "Nothing is happening." But before I knew it, the book was over and I was left with a feeling in my heart that I had never felt before. Somewhere along the journey from the first page to the last, I had gotten to know the characters, fallen in love with them, and actually cared about them. The last scene in the novel is a powerful one that left me breathless. This was an amazing read. While at first it may seem dull to some, stick with in, because by the end you will see what a masterpiece Steinbeck created.… (more)
LibraryThing member BeeQuiet
The Grapes of Wrath opens with thick descriptions of the Dust Bowl of America, interwoven metaphors alongside descriptions of the folk attempting to make a living and keep a sense self there, alongside loving descriptions of the very earth itself. It is only after drawing the reader to empathise with the small landowners, with the families, with the Joad family in particular and their way of life and their way of relating to other people, that the slow-burning horror of the situation comes to a head and forces them off their land. It is Steinbeck's notion of pace - not pushing too quickly but allowing the reader to fall in love with the land as though they themselves were the cultivators striving to keep unbroken that chain of succession, that feeling of belonging to the land as it belongs to them, which makes this book a 'classic'. The Joads must flee, escaping hunger and seeking a new place to call a home in sunny California, known to them from glossy magazines showing white painted houses and ripe oranges. As history tells us, that is not what these desperate migrants found.

This story is not just about one family, it is about all families who were driven from their land in the Dust Bowl leading to and during the Great Depression. Steinbeck dips into the wider arc of the story, using short chapters dotted between the tale of the Joads to show that their story was indeed the story of all. The Grapes of Wrath is many things, it is a political tract, it is a deep examination of the concept of the American family of that time, it is an explanation of economics, it is a lush description of the Dust Bowl and of California, it is a crushing indictment of the state's response to a humanitarian crisis. Riding high through these messages are those speaking of the power of humanity to push through crisis; of the ability of folk to pull together, the poor helping the poor.

Today, it is often difficult to view the Great Depression as anything other than a historical event like any other children learn of in school. However reading the papers, catching the news, looking at the situation faced by many people around the world and indeed in America, we can see that The Grapes of Wrath is still vital. This is not just a snapshot of one time lost forever, the danger faced by families unable to support themselves due to the push of big business is ever present. Here is a book that can teach us lessons, make us laugh, and make us cry.
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LibraryThing member kremsa
My favorite book ever!
LibraryThing member ocgreg34
"The Grapes of Wrath" follows the Joad family, long-time farmers from Oklahoma, forced to leave their beloved patch of earth due to drought and the Great Depression. Banks foreclose on the land, sell it to big businesses who push the families out. Like many other families in the state, the Joads hear of jobs out West, in California -- fields of cotton and orchards of peaches, ripe and waiting for the picking. The family gathers together -- Ma and Pa, Granma and Grampa, Uncle John, Noah, the pregnant Rosasharn and her husband Connie, little Ruthie and Winfield, and the recently-paroled Tom Joad -- and fills a beat up truck with their lives and heads West. Along the way, they battle against hunger, death, and the desert, eventually making it to the Golden State of California, only to find their lives are going to be much worse.

The novel provides a fantastic glimpse into what life was like during the Great Depression, especially in California. Those incoming migrants, toting large families while looking for any kind of work, created a fear within the locals -- fear of them organizing, fear of them becoming just like the other Californians. They did whatever they could to keep families like the Joads -- the Okies -- at poverty level. Steinbeck didn't rely simply on the story of the Joads themselves, but interspersed chapters showing what was happening to everyone. They struck me as a Greek chorus of sorts, focusing on the generic while watching those stories play out among the Joads and the people they meet on the way across country.

It truly is an amazing novel. I only wish I hadn't waited so long to read it.
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LibraryThing member Lisa2013
recommended for:
students but only if paired with helping today’s homeless and poor, and all adults

This book June 2013 buddy read with Diane and her friend Janni. It’s a good thing this was a buddy read because otherwise I’d have put it down. I really struggled (once again) with Steinbeck’s writing style, and characters too, in the first twelve chapters.

I started liking it in chapters 13 & 14, and by the last several chapters had a hard time putting it down and it was hard to believe I struggled so long with it.

Once I started caring about the characters (I’d always cared about their plight) even Steinbeck’s writing style is something I started loving. The descriptions and repetition that bored me a bit in the beginning became poetic and so true, and so beautiful. I’m not sure what changed for me regarding appreciating his writing style, but change it did. It actually took me even longer than 12 chapters to get fully engaged with some of the characters. At the start, this book was a 1 to 2 star book for me, and by the end it was close to a 5. I can’t give it more than 4 stars though, not when I spent the first 12 chapters not enjoying my reading experience.

By the last page I was literally sobbing. All that testosterone shining through and that laconic speech, and yet it’s ma that was the most sympathetic character for me, and one other at the end, and I’m always amazed when male writers can depict women so well, especially with this book given that it was written in the 1930s.

I did appreciate the humor, what there was of it, because this is an incredibly sad story. There are many scenes that are brutal and will stick with me, especially the one with the stew pot and the children. From the start, I did sympathize and empathize with the characters’ powerlessness and their loss and their needing to leave things behind.
This book was published in 1939, and I’ll bet my mother read it then. She was always an avid reader. And she was living in San Francisco, California at the time. I wonder what she made of it. She’d always been poor, but in cities and never poor like the Joad family.

I’m not sure I’d have appreciated this when I was a kid. I didn’t the author’s other books I tried, and I liked almost everything I read back then. I do think it would be a fine choice for middle and high school students to read, but if they’re middle class or above only if the reading is paired with learning about and helping today’s homeless and poor, and for poor adolescents it might help them feel less alone. I’d definitely recommend this to all adults. It’s worth struggling through if need be, though some readers are going to love it from page 1.

I’m so glad I stuck with it, and I’m really grateful to Diane and Janni for our discussions, and because I felt obligated to continue reading given that it was a planned buddy read.

It really is a masterpiece. No wonder some got their hackles up when this was published. Now, I need to see the 1940 movie. Thanks also to Goodreads friends who posted links about this book’s banned status because that also helped me continue reading and encouraged me to give this book a chance.

Most importantly, this book is so topical it's scary.
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LibraryThing member Fips
A work born of the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath is surely one of the greatest, most powerful and important books in American literature. Focussing on a poor family of tenant farmers escaping the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma, Steinbeck set out with the express intention of shaming the people he held responsible for the plight of these losers of the Depression, and aimed quite simply to "rip a reader's nerves to rags" with his tale. The Joad family sets out for California with their few remaining possessions, seeking work, land and new lives among the colourful orchards and vineyards of the western state, a veritable promised land. Instead they find further hardship, exploitation and abuse, labelled as 'Okies' and reds, welcome if they're willing to work for a pittance, hounded should they try to make a living for themselves.

Very reminiscent of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, it's easy to understand why the book was rewarded with so many accolades, and its author with the Nobel Prize for Literature. What sets the book apart from Sinclair's style is the directness of Steinbeck's writing. The family is full of quirky and unique characters, entirely believable, if slightly monochrome in flavour. Other readers have complained the book is divided rather obliquely into the 'good' and the 'bad', and whilst they make a reasonable point, this neither detracts from the overall message of the novel, nor prevents those characters from acting as the real driving force of the story. The heroes of the novel are true salt of the earth, which gives the book openness and accessibility: that Steinbeck writes their dialogue in their vernacular is a powerful motif.

Steinbeck intersperses his tale of the Joads with rather more artistic and morally or politically charged chapters covering the broader sweep of change facing America in the 1930s. In effect, the chapters intertwine the individual experiences of the Joad family with the macrocosmic overview of society in the Depression years. Steinbeck's rather more loaded and overt statements appear in these segments, but he also allows his characters to speak for him, especially Tom Joad and the preacher.

The Grapes of Wrath is entirely deserving of its accolades, and its place on countless lists of best novels or works to read before you die. Some reviewers had difficulty persevering past the book's opening, others found the vernacular language distracting, but generally speaking this is an extremely accessible novel which doesn't require a great deal of background knowledge to be appreciated.
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LibraryThing member AustereAdam
Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is an intense, harrowing account of one family’s struggle to survive, after being dislocated from their Oklahoma ranch and forced to move to California – land of prosperity- for work. The Joad family and their local (former) preacher, Jim Casey get caught up in the web of agricultural monopolies & Hoovervilles. They bounce from farm to farm, job to job, and camp to camp, as they search for enough work just to feed themselves. The story ends on a note of acceptance and understanding, but without promise or hope. The reality of the Great Depression and the dust bowl devastated “Oakies” seems to settle over the entire novel, the entire country, without so much as a glimmer of better days to come – though the Joads are sure to keep on.

The Good:
Steinbeck’s use of language and scene as emotion is absolutely brilliant. His description makes the moments – and there are many intensely moving moments. He also breaks up the storyline with chapters interspersed that tell almost like a news reel. There will be a chapter, for instance, on the life of a cotton picker, what a man can expect to be paid, how he struggles to feed his family off it, how the pickers are forced to fight over bolls and weigh down their bags with rocks for extra pay; how the scales are tipped in the farmers’ favor and how arguments ensue which are for the benefit of pride, but never truly resolve anything. Then, in the next chapter, Steinbeck brings his reader back to the Joad family and their personal struggle. The reader finds the Joads in the midst of situations described in the former chapter – only this time the impact is more intense, because we know this family – we are rooting for this family, but we already know, we have the facts, that this family is doomed to fail. Still, Steinbeck forces us to cheer them on and to believe, like the Joads believe, that everything will turn in their favor sooner or later. The format – the style and language- make this novel read like a play or a movie, as something almost watched rather than read. Steinbeck’s close, personal relationship with California is also an asset to the tale; he knows these peoples’ destitution and pain; he knows the land and what it does to people, how it promises wealth and easy-living, then turns on those emigrants who have come to reap the land’s riches. Steinbeck touches on this in many of his novels – East of Eden, for instance, but nowhere else is the land such an active character, such an antagonist to the Joads success – and to the success of all the “Reds.” Still, these folks love the land, and will continue to work for just a small space of their own; so we too love the land. Finally, Steinbeck is clearly speaking out in preference of the Union. Casey and Tom Joad – likely the novel’s two most conscientious and laudable protagonists – both, in the end, come to the conclusion to “organize.” They believe it is the only way to get ahead, to get out of the slums and to earn a living for the people and their families. At a time when Unions were being demonized by big and small corporations alike, Steinbeck was courageous –and right- in his championing of them.

The Bad:
The only negative I see in The Grapes of Wrath is the lack of resolution. What happens to Connie, for instance, or to Noah? They disappear – walk away from the Joad family and are never heard from again. Are we to believe that they made it, or that they perished? Jim Casy, when he chose to take the fall and was driven away from the Joad family, letter returns as a hero – so, in contrast, we can assume that the two deserters met a less heroic fate? Tom Joad, too, the novel’s main character – in close race with Ma Joad- disappears at the end. We get a sense of where he’s going, but we never know if he succeeds. Finally, the story of the Joads themselves, or at least those Joads whom are left, is also left unresolved. Just when things start looking up for this family – when a little money has come in, when the family is fed and food is not wanted – all luck turns, and everything is washed away. The Joads are flooded out of their camp, lose their truck and their reserves. Rosa Sharon loses even more than this and yet we see her giving care to another in the last moments of the novel, a “mysterious smile” on her face. Steinbeck leaves a lot to the imagination which, in a six hundred page novel, seems unnecessary. My interpretation would be this: the Joads will never make it, but they will never give up trying. This seems to be the reason for Rosa Sharon’s smile – like Mona Lisa’s. Sad, resigned, but alive.

The Final Verdict: 5.0 out of 5.0
Not since Melville’s The Confidence Man and Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have I felt an author has so completely and implicitly captured the American spirit. The only faults to find in this novel were that too much, though not much really, was left unresolved. Why doesn’t this reduced my overall score for the novel? Because Steinbeck knew the problem itself was unresolved – yes, characters in this novel wandered off and were never heard from again; so it was with the migrant laborers, split from their families to find work, with promises to strike it big and return with wealth and advantages. The language and dialogue were masterfully wrought, and the novel’s structure is something unique and wonderful. The interspersed chapters of detached observation give the readers a clearer understanding of what is really happening, and the realization that, left with only the Joad family’s journey, we too would continue to be hopeful when there was no reason left to be positive. It is no wonder that The Grapes of Wrath is considered by some, such as Dorothy Parker, to be “the greatest American novel.”
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LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
After I'd decided to reread this classic of 20th Century American literature, I was amazed to realize I'd never read it before. My crystal clear memories of it were actually memories of the movie, not the book.
How I ever managed to get an MA in American lit w/o reading this perplexes me, but I'm glad I made the effort to read the book.
This is John Steinbeck at his best. The scenery is captivating, as are the characters. One really gets a feeling for how beaten down the tens of thousands of ousted sharecroppers and dustbowl farmers were who fled with all their belonging to the promised land of California. And how brutalized they felt when they weren't welcomed with open arms. The glut of laborers overwhelmed the job market, driving wages down to below the survival level. And landowners, frightened that the mobs of impoverished Okies might turn violent, often burned their settlement camps to force them to move on.
This is a bleak book. The characters keep getting knocked down by one setback after another. But they keep on getting back up and pushing forward.
It may have taken me 62 years to get around to reading THE GRAPES OF WRATH, but better late than never.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Steinbeck's novel for the little man, for social justice, for brotherhood, and for the human spirit perservering through extreme hardship. It's a tour de force and Dorothy Parker was right on when she said, "The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest American novel I have ever read."

On good and evil:
"Before I knowed it, I was sayin' out loud, 'The hell with it! There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing. And some of things folks do is nice, and some ain't nice, but that's as far as any man got a right to say."

On crime:
"Well, they was nice fellas, ya see. What made 'em bad was they needed stuff. An' I begin to see, then. It's need that makes all the trouble."

On religion, oneness, and brotherhood:
"I figgered about the Holy Sperit and the Jesus road. I figgered, 'Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,' I figgered, 'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit - the human sperit - the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of.' Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a sudden - I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it."

"I got thinkin' how we was holy when we was one thing, an' mankin' was holy when it was one thing. An' it on'y got unholy when one mis'able little fella got the bit in his teeth an' run off his own way, kickin' an draggin' an' fightin'. Fella like that bust the holiness. But when they're all workin' together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang - that's right, that's holy."

"But now I been thinkin' what he said, an' I can remember - all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an' he foun' he didn' have no soul that was his'n. Says he foun' he jus' got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain't no good, 'cause his little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole. Funny how I remember, Didn't think I was even listenin'. But I know now a fella ain't no good alone."

On faith in man:
"And here's a story you can hardly believe, but it's true, and it's funny and it's beautiful. There was family of twelve and they were forced off the land. They had no car. They built a trailer out of junk and loaded it with their possessions. They pulled it out to the side of 66 and waited. And pretty soon a sedan picked them up. Five of them rode in the sedan and seven on the trailer, and a dog on the trailer. They got to California in two jumps. The man who pulled them fed them. And that's true. But how can such courage be, and such faith in their own species? Very few things would teach such faith.
The people in flight from the terror behind - strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever."

On business:
"' ever' time since then when I hear a business man talkin' about service, I wonder who's gettin' screwed. Fella in business got to lie an' cheat, but he calls it somepin else. That's what's important. You got steal that tire an' you're a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call that sound business."

On life and death:
"This here ol' man jus' lived a life an' just died out of it, I don't know whether he was good or bad, but that don't matter much. He was alive, an' that's what matters. An' now he's dead, an' that don't matter. Heard a fella tell a poem one time, an' he says 'All that lives is holy.' Got to thinkin', an' purty soon it means more than the words says. An' I wouldn't pray for a ol' fella that's dead. He's awright. He got a job to do, but it's all laid out for 'im an' there's on'y one way to do it. But us, we got a job to do, an' they's a thousand ways, an' we don' know which one to take. An' if I was to pray, it'd be for the folks that don't know which way to turn."

On the immorality of wasting food:
"The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land. Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce. Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow."
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LibraryThing member sbenne3
It was a bit of a struggle to get through it, but I am glad I got it done. I have a lot of respect for this book as a piece of literature and it did give me new perspective on the human condition during the depression. It also made me think that government intervention is sometimes necessary when conditions deem it necessary. I really enjoyed the short chapters that provided details of the life and times - they were written beautifully.… (more)
LibraryThing member aamirq
It took me two attempts to get past the first 20 pages of the book. But when I did get past and finished the book, I knew that I had read just about the best book ever written.
LibraryThing member mrminjares
This is the story of how the poor struggle and how they search for the simplest things in life like food and a dry place to sleep. The Joad family is from Oklahoma and they are forced off of their land by banks and landowners because the dust bowl destroyed land and crops. They choose to drive west because they hear that jobs in California are abundant. But when they arrive, they receive a hostile reception from native Californians. They look for jobs but find none. They are forced to live in homeless camps along the side of the road. And as time passes and the challenges build, the Joad family falls apart, from old grandparents dying to young men marching off on their own. The family is held together by the incredible will of the mother, and the ingenuity and perseverance of Tom Joad and his brother Al. Still, even when they find reasonably safe quarters and jobs, they face threats from weather and low wages. They are never safe.

Steinbeck communicates some harsh truths in this novel. The poor find strength and sacrifice when binding together, but they receive hostile stares from the well-off, who see them as foreigners. This seems so true today. He also relates some interesting history of California and its immigrants, who have always played a key role in the state's agricultural sector. Migrants are their own worst enemies when they see themselves as individuals and fight for jobs, which causes wages to go down. But when they band together to demand higher wages, they find strength. Still, they struggled as landowners killed labor leaders. Even in the midst of incredible poverty within the migrant community, there is incredible agricultural abundance, but ironically crops are destroyed to keep prices from falling. The poor are powerless to fight the economic forces around them.

This story should give all of us pause who don't know or understand the struggles of the poor. Eating and sleeping in a warm bed are things we take for granted. And we see the poor as foreigners for odd reasons. The 1930s were a time of incredible struggle and despair for hundreds of thousands. There was malnutrition and poverty in abundance, all in a land of great wealth and ferttiy. How can we have been so blind and hostile to this tragedy?
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LibraryThing member mdtwilighter
Steinbeck's novel tells of the Joads, a farming family who is forced off of their land due to the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. The chapters alternate, so that every other chapter, in between the story of the Joads, we get a wider view of the Depression in its entirety. It could almost be two different books, though very closely related. I enjoyed both "sides" of the book immensely. Steinbeck's descriptive language and gift for metaphor makes you feel as if you are right there with the migrants. He forces you to think about what happened and feel ashamed of what was done to those people. Many valuable lessons in this book, as well as a heart felt tale of a family struggling to survive.… (more)
LibraryThing member rizeandshine
The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family, forced by the Oklahoma dust bowl and unscrupulous capitalistic business interests to migrate west to the "promised land" of California. Instead of a land of milk and honey, the Joad's find poverty and despair as they, along with many other destitute people, are forced into migrant crop work owned and operated by those who exploit them. Steinbeck alternates chapters of the Joad's story with experimental prose and dramatization which paint the larger picture of the "Okie" migration west. I found these narratives to be rich and descriptive, adding depth and insight into the social, environmental and genetic forces fighting against those who had migrated west in search of work. At first the Joads are only concerned about the well-being of the family, but soon realize that they belong to a larger group suffering the same difficulties and hardships, which can only be overcome through a collective effort. As the Joad family begins to shrink in blood relations, it expands to include those related by plight; the poor helping the poorer. “In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. In the evening, sitting around the fires, the twenty were one.” Toward the end of the novel, one of the Joads remembers a passage from Ecclesiastes illustrating one of the main ideas in the novel, “Two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lif’ up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he has not another to help him up.” This was a compelling read which I highly recommend. While the poverty and suffering depicted in the novel is depressing and sometimes difficult to read, the message of love, compassion, dignity and courage of the human spirit is uplifting overall.… (more)



Viking Press (1967), Edition: Book Club Edition (BCE/BOMC)

Original publication date

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