The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

BACKGROUND

John Steinbeck wrote this book from his own experiences growing up around a lot of migrant workers. He felt sympathy for them because usually migrant workers were treated so badly. In this novel, this huge family is traveling from Oklahoma to California. The book has chapters called "interchapters." In these "interchapters," there is really no plot and just the author describing some stuff like the weather or nature or some person or something. Steinbeck is famous for writing stories that give some insight into what it means to be an American, or to struggle to live in this big, free land. He wrote another book, Of Mice and Men, which is also an American classic.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Tom Joad: Tom is the son of Ma and Pa Joad. He is the middle son who was in prison for killing a guy. Tom has a quick temper and always gets in fights and arguments. He is on parole, so he’s always hiding from the cops.

Ma Joad: Ma is a nice lady. She is strong and pretty much holds the family together. She does a lot of work for the family. Ma really loves her family.

Pa Joad: Pa is the father in the family. He is like the head of the family except Ma Joad is a little stronger (mentally) and she makes all the decision. Pa Joad is a bit of a baby – he’s lazy and doesn’t do his job well.

Jim Casy: Jim is a main dude in the story. Jim is not in the Joad family. He’s this guy who used to be a preacher. He joins the Joad family on their journey to California. Jim used to be religious but he gave it up because he loves to shag. He talks a lot about people’s souls and stuff. He is a nice guy and does a lot of nice things for the Joad family and for other migrant workers. He gets killed in the end.

Uncle John: He is part of the Joad family. John is sad because his wife is dead. He feels really bad because he gave her medicine and accidentally killed her.

Al Joad: He is the oldest son in the Joad family. He’s good with cars. In this book he loves the ladies and is always hooking up with them.

Noah Joad: He is the youngest son in the Joad family. He really doesn’t care about many things. He really doesn’t have a big impact on the family. Nobody really gives a damn about Noah.

Rose of Sharon: Oldest daughter in the Joad family. She is pregnant while they are traveling. She whines a lot during the trip because she cares about her baby. She continues to do manual labor with the family and then has a miscarriage.

Connie Rivers: Don’t be confused.... Connie is a man, baby. Yes, Connie can be a man’s name. Connie is Rose of Sharon’s husband. He is a young dude. He cares about his future baby, but leaves his wife in the end.

Ruthie/Winfield: The two young kids of the Joad family. These kids are brats. They don’t know any rules and all they do is run around and cause trouble.

Grandpa Joad/Grandma Joad: The grandparents. Grandpa is crazy. The family has to take care of him and he dies early in the book. Grandma dies shortly after.

PLOT

The Joads are a big family of farmers from Oklahoma. In the beginning, the Joads lose their farm because the bank takes it away. They head to California because they think there are good farms out there.

When they begin on their long trip, their middle son, Tom, comes home from prison. He has a friend with him. His friend is Jim Casy, some ex-preacher dude who talks about finding religion in people’s love and stuff like that.

The Joad family buys a truck and they all pile into it with their luggage. Grandpa doesn’t want to go but they make him. Then he dies and they bury him on some roadside. Much of this book is dedicated to describing the migrant workers and how sucky their lives were.

Then the Joads arrive in California. They find out that there are not that many jobs for migrant workers. So they take a bunch of lame jobs and don’t make any money. They live in these crappy little trailer park-type places. At one place, Tom gets in a fight with a cop and is arrested, but Jim Casy sticks up for him and goes to jail for him. The Joads keep moving to other parts of the state, looking for work. Then they find one place where the workers are on strike. Then Tom sees that Casy is the leader of the rebellion.

The boss brings some thugs to break up the strike and they kill Casy. Then Tom kills one of those guys. The Joad family hides Tom because he is a fugitive now. Then Tom goes off by himself. Then the family finds a job but it sucks. They are poor and can’t eat. Then Rose of Sharon has a miscarriage.

CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

CHAPTER 1:

  • The first chapter is a description of all the land and the families that work on farms.

CHAPTER 2:

  • Tom Joad has just been released from prison. He asks some guy in a tractor for a ride.
  • Tom talks to the driver. They talk about farming, Tom’s family, and about how he was released from jail where he served time for murder.
  • Tom is kinda mean to the guy, even though the guy is giving him a ride.

CHAPTER 3:

  • The chapter starts off with a turtle in the road. One car misses him but some guy tries to hit him on purpose. The turtle is hit and flipped on its back.

CHAPTER 4:

  • Tom gets out of the truck. He picks up the turtle to take home as a gift for his younger brother.
  • Tom meets this dude named Jim Casy. Jim tells him how he used to be a preacher. He quit because he loved having sex with the ladies.
  • We learn that Tom went to prison for killing some guy at a bar when he was drunk and got in a fight.
  • Tom tells Jim about his family and how he misses them. When they get to Tom’s house, it is empty.

CHAPTER 5:

  • We learn that the house is abandoned because the bank shut down their farm because the Joads weren’t making enough money.
  • In this chapter the author has some weird imaginary conversation between the farmers and the bank which is all about why the bank shut down the farms.

CHAPTER 6:

  • Tom doesn’t know why his family is gone. He and Jim search the house.
  • Tom talks to the neighbor (Muley Graves) and Muley tells him that his family took off two days before to go to his Uncle John’s place.
  • Muley explains to him that they had a small farm and didn't make any money and that’s why they left.
  • We learn that Muley didn’t let the bank toss him out… he stayed.
  • Later that night they eat a rabbit that Muley caught.
  • Muley is a nice guy because he shares the rabbit with Tom and Jim Casy.
  • After dinner they talk. Tom talks about prison and how he doesn’t regret killing that guy.
  • Then Tom and Jim must hide because they are trespassing – even though it is Tom’s old house, the property belongs to the bank.

CHAPTER 7:

  • Muley tells Tom that most of the farmers took off to California because they heard about jobs there.
  • Tom doesn’t understand how they’d get there because his family doesn’t have a car.
  • Then there is a description of the used car salesman in the town and how all these farmers went to him and he ripped them off because he is an evil jerk.

CHAPTER 8:

  • The story cuts to Uncle John’s house. We finally meet the Joad family.
  • The story cuts back to Tom and Jim. Tom invites Jim to travel with him and meet his family.
  • On their way, Tom tells Jim about his Uncle John. One day, John’s wife was sick. Instead of calling the doctor, John gave her some medication, but she died because her appendix burst.
  • Tom sees his family and they are sorta happy to see him but not totally excited.
  • They plan on putting all their luggage into a car and going to California.
  • Tom sees his mom and dad and his mom is really happy to see him. Then Tom sees his grandparents. His grandpa is crazy and his grandma is loud and obnoxious.
  • The family meets Jim Casy.
  • Tom sees the rest of his family. He learns that Rose of Sharon is married and pregnant.

CHAPTER 9:

  • This chapter is about the family packing.
  • They can only fit so much of their crap into the car and they don’t know what to take.
  • They have to decide what is really important.

CHAPTER 10:

  • They are all scared of the long journey
  • Mom is scared because she is making this big trip to go to a place where they only heard there were jobs.
  • Tom tells her that California doesn’t have enough jobs and isn’t a good place to go.
  • Even though Tom says some bad stuff about California, they go anyway.
  • They sell some belongings and but don’t make much money.
  • Tom realizes if he leaves Oklahoma he is breaking his parole (not allowed to leave the state).
  • Their car breaks down.
  • Tom decides to go with his family and take the chance.
  • Al Joad fixes the cars. Then the family talks about taking Jim Casy along.
  • They let Casy come with them.
  • That night they pack the truck. Then grandpa decides that he’s not going. They don’t wanna leave him there alone so they drug his coffee and throw him into the truck.

CHAPTER 11:

  • This chapter just describes the farmland now that it is empty. The author compares it to death.

CHAPTER 12:

  • The Joad family takes off and follows Route 66. This road goes all the way to California and is called "the Dust Bowl."
  • The author describes the traffic jam on the road because there’s so many poor farmers going west for work.
  • This chapter just talks about some examples of people and what they do when they have car trouble.

CHAPTER 13:

  • The Joads drive about 200 miles.
  • Their dog gets hit by a car. Then Grandpa dies.
  • The family is sad but it brings them together.
  • They meet this family named the Wilsons and the two families become friends.
  • Then the chapter describes Ma Joad and what a hard working lady she is. All she does is help everyone else and do all the necessary chores.
  • They stop for gas. The gas station dude thinks they’re gonna steal gas but they pay. At first he is an ass, but after he sees money, he is nice.
  • The gas station guy doesn’t understand why everyone is moving west.
  • Tom yells at the gas station guy.
  • The family buries grandpa because they can’t afford a funeral. So they bury him in the ground and leave a note with the body for an explanation.

CHAPTER 14

  • This chapter just describes what is going on with the labor crisis in the country.
  • Workers are forming unions and there are new taxes.

CHAPTER 15:

  • The story cuts back to the Joad family driving. They stop in some diner.
  • The story describes the conversations going on in the diner – mostly small talk, weather, jokes, etc.
  • A poor dude stops in and ask to buy bread. The waitress won’t sell him a loaf but Al Joad tells her to. So she does. She gives him cheap food, too.
  • Then some trucker tips her big time because she is such a sweetheart.

CHAPTER 16:

  • The Joads are back out on the road. They travel with the Wilsons.
  • Grandma gets sick and starts acting nutty.
  • Rose and Connie talk about how cool California will be.
  • The Wilson’s car breaks down.
  • Tom and Jim offer to stay behind and fix it and catch up with the other car later. Ma doesn’t wanna go ahead but says that they will go ahead, and stop at a camp and wait for Tom and Jim.
  • Tom and Al go to a junkyard to find a spare part that they need. Al asks him about prison but Tom doesn’t tell him anything.
  • At the junkyard they find the part and Tom yells at the owner of the yard (a one eyed man).
  • Then the men meet some ragged guy who tells them about California. He says California sucks and not to go. He also tells them all the jobs are rip-offs.

CHAPTER 17:

  • This chapter describes the migrant overnight camps they stop at every night.
  • These roadside camps have their own little society with rules, etc.
  • There are unwritten rules in each camp that everyone obeys.

CHAPTER 18:

  • The Joads make it to Arizona.
  • They meet a border guard and he tells them to keep moving through the state.
  • They stop at a campsite to rest.
  • The men go swimming and meet some guys. The guys tell the Joad men that California sucks. They say that the people in California are jerks and try to scare away all the migrant workers.
  • Noah leaves the family because he’s scared of California. He says he will live on the river and eat fish.
  • Ma is sad because the family is starting to split up
  • Grandma is dying. Some religious woman comes to say some prayers but Ma Joad tells her not to. She starts to take Jim’s approach to religion, which is that there is no such thing as religion, just spirituality in people’s love.
  • The Joad family crosses the desert at night.
  • Rose and Connie have sex on top of the truck and Grandma dies in the middle of the night.

CHAPTER 19:

  • They reach California.
  • Then the author gives us the history of California, how it was owned by Mexico and then the USA took it.
  • The Joads see that everyone hates the Oklahoma migrant workers ("Okies"). They are poor and scary.

CHAPTER 20:

  • The Joads bury grandma.
  • They look for work. They go to a camp to set up their stuff. The place is called Hoovervile – it’s a dump.
  • Ma Joad makes a stew and gives some to some poor kids. Their mother yells at her.
  • Tom talks to some dude named Floyd and he tells him how bad California is.
  • He learns there are more workers than jobs, so the bosses are cutting wages and really screwing the workers.
  • Tom talks about striking to get better pay. Floyd tells him not to because the bosses kill people who organize a strike.
  • A sheriff and a boss show up looking for workers. Floyd gives them some lip so they arrest him. Tom sticks up for Floyd.
  • Then Floyd punches the cop, and Tom trips him. Then the cop pulls out a gun and aims it at Floyd. Then Jim Casy comes and kicks the cop’s butt.
  • Jim Casy tells Tom he will take the heat for the whole fight since Tom is on parole.
  • Uncle John admits that he’s been hiding money to get drunk.
  • Connie (Rose’s husband) leaves his wife and the Joad family because he hates California.

CHAPTER 21:

  • This short chapter is about food
  • The author talks about what people will do for food and how they become really pissed off when they don’t have any food.

CHAPTER 22:

  • The Joads hear about some government run camp, which is pretty sweet.
  • At this new camp the place is awesome and it has a lot of cool, clean stuff. Also the cops aren’t allowed to come in and rough up people.
  • The people are nice, too. Tom meets this dude named Wallace who gets him a job.
  • Tom gets a job laying pipe at some farm, but the job pays almost no money.
  • The owner of the farm has to pay low wages because the bank people are jerks and threaten to take away his farm.
  • Tom takes the job anyway. The owner of the farm tells Tom and Wallace that there is a raid planned on the government camp. Since the cops aren’t allowed in unless there is a fight, a big fight is planned for the night of the big dance.
  • The women of this govt. camp show Ma around. Ma is impressed. These are the first nice people the Joads have met in California.
  • Some crazy chick named Mrs. Sandry comes to talk to Rose of Sharon.
  • Mrs. Sandry talks a lot of devil stuff and Ma Joad kicks her out of their tent.

CHAPTER 23:

  • This chapter describes what the workers did for fun.
  • They tell jokes, see movies, play music, and drink a lot.

CHAPTER 24:

  • Saturday night comes and there is a big dance.
  • The people at the camp are aware that the cops are going to raid. They set up guards to look out for them.
  • The dance starts and people start to boogey.
  • Pa has an argument with some guy about how much money they would work for because they are desperate.
  • The cops try to start some stuff but the camp people are ready for them, so all the trouble is avoided.

CHAPTER 25:

  • This chapter just describes the price system with farmer’s goods.
  • We learn that the prices are low, which is why the farmers are so poor.

CHAPTER 26:

  • The Joads decide to leave the govt. camp.
  • Pa Joad gets mad at Ma because she takes control of the family.
  • They say goodbye to their friends. They drive away and get a flat tire. They fix it and meet a dude who tells them where they can get work.
  • So they go to this an orchard to pick peaches.
  • They see a big crowd and lots of cops at the Peach orchard. They don’t know why all those people are there.
  • They pick peaches and get enough money to buy some food.
  • At night, Tom goes back to see what the deal was with all the cops. He sees his buddy Jim Casy.
  • Jim tells Tom that he is there with some other guys because they are on strike. They want better pay.
  • Tom has a tough decision: Should his family keep working there for small wages? Or should they go on strike?
  • Then some henchmen that work for the boss come to get Jim. They club him in the head and kill him.
  • Then Tom kills the guy who killed Jim.
  • Tom is now a fugitive again.
  • The family leaves again and hides Tom in the truck.
  • Then the Joads find another place to work and Tom just hides out all day.

CHAPTER 27:

  • This chapter describes the business of picking cotton, their new job.
  • The author talks about what kind of business it is, that you get paid by the pound, and how people cheat.

CHAPTER 28:

  • The Joads start work in the cotton fields and make some money.
  • Al Joad finds some chick named Aggie and they get married.
  • Ma tells Tom that he has to go.
  • Tom tells Ma about his new calling in life and how he wants to help people (like Jim Casy).
  • Tom takes off and the family continues picking cotton. Rose of Sharon even works while she’s pregnant.
  • Then Rose gets sick.

CHAPTER 29:

  • This chapter talks about how it is raining really badly.
  • Now that it rains, the workers can’t pick any fruit, so they are unemployed.
  • Now that they are unemployed, they have no money.
  • The local residents are scared of these poor people so the cops are called out to kick some ass.

CHAPTER 30

  • The shelter the Joads stay in, which is an abandoned train boxcar overflows because of the rain.
  • The male workers try to fight the rain and the flooding with walls and stuff.
  • Then Rose goes into labor. She has a miscarriage.
  • The rain destroys the Joads truck.
  • Uncle John buries the dead baby (Rose’s baby).
  • They leave the cotton field and their train boxcar home. They meet a man who is starving to death.
  • Then Rose breast feeds him.

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • Steinbeck wrote this to protest how bad the migrant workers were being treated.
  • There is a lot of symbolism in the book that makes it look like the Joad’s farm was like a member of the family. When they lost the land, it was like a family member dying.
  • There is a lot of stuff in the book where people help people. Even though the Joads are poor, they are rich in human nature (that’s a 5-star sentence to say in class) they have trouble feeding themselves but they help out other starving or dying people.
  • The title The Grapes of Wrath is full of anger.
  • Many groups of people hate other groups. The migrant workers hate the landowners. The Californian people hate the workers.
  • The turtle on the road might be a representation of the Joad family and other migrant workers. Slow moving, but very tough and they don’t give up. They just keep moving along.
  • Think about the responsibility some characters feel for others (like Ma towards her family) and how that can change quickly and righteously (Tom sticks up for Casy) or selfishly (Rose of Sharon’s husband takes off).
  • All the people in this book are at the mercy of others – whether it’s finding a job, or finding food, or battling the weather.
  • The ending image suggests group reliance as well as mothering and Mother Earth.