The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck | Summary & Analysis


in the introduction to the Grapes of


it's the Dust Bowl of the American 1930s

and the land is eroding leading to

fierce dust storms Tom Joad the novel's

protagonist had just been released from

prison he hitchhikes home and as he

walked toward his house he meets a

former preacher Jim Casey in the rising

action Tom and Casey reached Tom's home

only to find it abandoned Tom learns

that while he was locked up big

landowners drove tenant farmers from

their land because of disappointing crop

yields this is what happened to his own

family who are now staying at his Uncle

John's place Tom and Casey arrived at

Uncle John's farm greet the core members

of the Joad family and plan to travel

west to California where there's rumored

to be plenty of work the Joads joined

countless other migrants who are

travelling down highway 66 to california

and ma ends up taking on the leadership

role within the family after many

challenging hardships on the road the


soon arrive at a Hooverville a makeshift

migrant camp and are stunned by its

squalor and abysmal living conditions

when a contractor tries to hire workers

from the camp without stating the pay

angered workers tired of ruthless

exploitation including Tom and Casey

attacked the contractor Casey takes the

rap and gets arrested Tom leaves the

Hooverville with his family the Joads

arrive at a government camp weed patch

where the migrants are allowed to govern

themselves although the camp's

conditions are good and sense of

community is strong ma tells the Joad

men they have to leave the government

camp to find work the Joads get work

picking peaches at a ranch where they're

unknowingly busting strikers whose wages

have been unfairly cut a day's wage is

barely enough to buy dinner

Tom sneaks out and meets the people who

were picketing the ranch he finds the

Jim Casey is leading them Casey tells

Tom about the importance of all working

people uniting to fight oppression in

the climax of the novel the police raid

the protesters camp in the heat of the

moment and Tom retaliates by killing the

policeman who killed Casey

injured himself

in the following action the Joads get

worked picking cotton and Tom hides out

in the Willows to allow his injuries to

heal when ma brings food to tom tom

explains how he's been inspired by Casey

while hiding in solitude he realizes

that people working together to fight

oppression are stronger Tom says goodbye

to MA leaving the Joad family a

rainstorm hits the cotton farm including

the nearby camp where the Joads are

living and while it rages Rose of Sharon

gives birth to a stillborn in the camp

floods forcing the Joads to evacuate in

the resolution the destitute remaining

members of the Joad family go to a barn

for shelter and meet a boy and his

starving father Rose of Sharon breast

feeds the starving man symbolically

forming a community based on helping

others in dire circumstances that

extends beyond the family


the Joad family and their former

preacher companion comprised the central

characters in the epic of exploration

and exploitation that is The Grapes of

Wrath Tom Joad is the second oldest son

of ma and pas Joad tenant farmers from

Oklahoma he was sent to prison for

killing a man in self-defense and has

been let out early on parole for good

behavior an outside of the misshapes

against authority figures tom focuses on

immediate tasks and gets angry when

pushed around after Jim Casey dies tom

comes to understand that all people are

part of one soul and becomes a man who

channels his outrage for the greater

good of humankind ma Joad is the

matriarch of the Joad family she is a

strong sturdy woman but also gentle she

stabilizes and unifies the family MA

acts as the center or heart and soul of

her family and as the Joads face various

hardships the family threatens to break

apart to counteract this Maas role

shifts from the backbone of the family

to family leader pod Joad is married to

macho to a physically strong man who's

the breadwinner of the family

early on PHA is the leader of the family

but as the now Phillips ma takes on PHA

doesn't like this change but he realizes

in a way that he's become a broken man

often second-guessing himself Jim Casey

is a former preacher who grew

disillusioned and quit preaching he

meets Tom as the younger man walks

toward his home in Oklahoma

Casey constantly questions why things

are the way they are concerned with the

plight of the tenant farmers who are

being forced off their land he realizes

his new calling is to help them thus he

travels with the Joads

to California he ends up leading a

strike to give up unfair labor practices

of landowners and is killed but his

ideas inspire Tom Joad Rose of Sharon is

the older daughter of MA and pas Joad

her name is a biblical reference to the

following verse and Song of Solomon -

verse 1 I am The Rose of Sharon the lily

of the valleys married to Connie and

pregnant with his child at first Rose of

Sharon is seen as an immature young

woman she has romantic notions of what

her married life will be like

Conny abandons Rose of Sharon she has a

rude awakening at the end of the novel

Rose of Sharon shows powerful deeply

human maturity by offering to breastfeed

a starving man al Joad is the third son

of PHA and ma Joad he is a cocky 16 year

old focus mostly on women and cars even

so he also feels a responsibility for

helping the family al looks up to his

brother Tom throughout the story al

shows the desire to become an

independent man Uncle John is PA's

brother wracked by guilt over his wife's

death much of his life is devoted to

performing penance for his sin Uncle

John has severe mood swings he mostly

lives his repentant lifestyle but carnal

pressures swell up inside of him until

they burst

the land turtle the bank monster a dying

dog the grapes of wrath' themselves and

the dead infant in an Apple box these

are the often heart-wrenching sometimes

hopeful key symbols in The Grapes of

Wrath the land turtle is a symbol of

narrow vision which enables individuals

and businesses to plot ahead on a

determined path one step at a time Tom

and mob both take the land turtle

approach keeping one foot in front of

the other and focused on immediate needs

which enables them to persevere as

leaders against hardship for Tom though

this attitude is limiting because it

prevents him from having a wider vision

like Jim Casey does eventually Tom

breaks out of the land turtle approach

when he sees people as belonging to one

big soul the bank monster described in

Chapter five is a symbolic entity that

represents the system of the bank and

other big businesses one that needs to

make more and more of a profit to

survive all the people who work for the

monster no matter how lofty their

positions are really the slaves of the

monster large farmers attract more

migrants than are necessary for the jobs

available in order to keep wages down

keep prices up and create more profits

the inhuman monster thrives in Chapter

thirteen the death of the Joads dog

foreshadows the many tragedies the

family will face run over on the highway

the dying dog like the Joad family has

its life hanging in a precarious

situation tragedies are inevitable and

their dying dog on the highway

symbolizes this the titular Grapes of

Wrath represent the growing anger within

the souls of oppressed migrants this

symbol appears at the end of chapter 25

in which Steinbeck describes how big

farmers harvest crops including fruits

such as grapes in inhumane ways because

the process involves destroying food

instead of allowing hungry people to eat

it Steinbeck takes the imagery of grapes

and turns it into a symbol for the

migrants as the big farmers harvest

grapes to produce wine a symbolic crop

referred to as The Grapes of Wrath grows

within the souls of the hungry people

who watch this process instead of

producing poor quality wine The Grapes

of Wrath are growing heavy for the

vintage Steinbeck got the phrase Grapes

of Wrath from a verse in the Battle Hymn

of the Republic which reads 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

chapter 30 uses the dead infant in an

apple box as a symbol that refers to the

biblical story of the infant Moses being

cast off in a papyrus basket in a river

in the Bible the basket connects with

Noah's Ark as Noah's Ark rescued

humankind the ark of Moses also rescues

the people of Israel in The Grapes of

Wrath Rose of Sharon's stillborn baby in

the Apple box will show people in town

the hardships and horror that the

migrants are dealing with as it makes

its way along a flooded stream


in The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck

presents three major themes each

consisting of a duality individual

versus community selfishness versus

kindness and meekness versus wrath


individual versus community is the most

important theme in the novel Tom Joad

embodies individualism he's an outsider

in society a person just released from

prison who focuses on his own business

and no one else's and many other

characters are also shown as individuals

who do not concern themselves with the

problems of others for instance in

chapter 5 the tractor driver who plows

over the home is a tenant farmers

excuses this action by saying $3 a day I

got a wife and kids we gotta eat so for

some of these individuals personal or

family necessity drives them to act in

ways that hurt others however as the

hardships of her family and other

migrants get worse OMA sees the need to

expand her community beyond her family

to the common people and also Jim Casey

exemplifies the notion of the human


Casey sees all people as being part of

one soul this relates to the idea of the

Oversoul a concept discussed by

transcendentalist author Ralph Waldo

Emerson that asserts that a universal

spirit unites all living things when

people join together for the common good

they have the strength to overcome

oppression eventually Tom understands

and accepts these ideas and changes from

an individualist to a person committed

to serving the community

selfishness versus kindness is a

perpetual battle of a theme the main

proponents of a selfish attitude are the

landowners and the bank and their

increased desire for increased profits

these entities focus only on getting

profits they do not care how they abuse

others keeping migrant workers oppressed

and weak enhances their selfish goals

however various examples of kindness

take place between common people helping

one another out during hard times

the Wilsons and the Joads help one

another and thereby form a small

community as they travel together in

toward California the waitress that

helps the migrant family with food is

another example and mrs. Wainwright Cubs

ma to little Rose of Sharon's baby even

though she has no family ties with the

Joads kind people in the government camp

encourage an efficient strong and caring

community kindness is the glue that

holds the community together

finally there's meekness versus rest

meek attitudes of the migrants allow

landowners and the banks to exploit them

in Oklahoma owners forced minutes bought

their land thus creating thousands of

people who were unemployed in California

landowners attract these people to their

large farms by doing this the landowners

create high unemployment which enables

them to have their crops picked for a

very low price the meekness of the

migrants allows them to be exploited

within the system yet migrants can rebel

against the system by using their anger

or wrath Steinbeck makes it clear that

people need to channel their anger for

the common good because the migrants are

oppressed Rath builds in their souls

chapter 25 ends with the line in the

souls of the people The Grapes of Wrath

are filling and growing