The Grapes of Wrath

The Novel vs. The Movie!

By: Efe Nesiama AP English IV IRP Assignment

Compare and Contrast: Characters

The main character Tom Joad, is expertly portrayed by his actor, Henry Fonda. When the audience first sees Tom Joad at the beginning of the film he is mainly concerned for his own welfare. He wants to make up for all the things he missed when in prison. Later on in the film he is more concerned with the welfare of the family. When we last see him he has shifted in his ideals by trying to do what is best for all the migrant people by organizing them into striking. The other characters are accurately displayed as well. Jim Casy, the former preacher, was depicted quite accurately with his ideals and philosophy about the Holy and Human Spirit. The film makers did well to make him appear raggedy, yet also wise with his two-bits of insight on the way the world works. Through his selfless actions, Casy's actor expertly depicts his character's generosity and care for others over himself and role as a guide for Tom. Another character that was properly displayed was Ma Joad. Her spunk, and strong-will were central to the story and her actress displayed them quite well. From the caring way she took care of other camp children and how she looked out for Tom, she was well portrayed in the movie as a mother. Another character that was well displayed was Sharon, Tom's sister. Being a newly wed and pregnant, she started off as optimistic and eager to start a new life in California with her husband. Her actress portrayed her quite well, especially her dependence on her husband, who was a rather weak-willed character. Following her husband's abandonment, her demeanor changed rapidly. She was both physically and mentally depressed which was shown in the movie by her always being exhausted or at bed rest with people tending to her. However the difference in the movie and novel is revealed when the movie decides to keep her alive without exposing the health of her child, while in the novel her child is born dead and she give her breast milk to starving men, and later dies.

Compare and Contrast: Tone, Setting, and Imagery

The filmmakers' intentions in putting this novel to screen was to show how the impact of the Great Depression effected the families of that time. The films rustic and vintage appearance helped create a strong feeling of poverty and realism to the audience. The filmmakers effectively recreated the scenery to make the setting as real as possible. The use of actual dialect of the Okies, was helpful to make the dialogue as realistic as possible. Throughout the movie the family's clothing, possessions and even the car added to the effect that Steinbeck had created when he wrote his novel long ago. Overall, although there were several omission of scenes in the film, it still was effective in enhancing the imagery, setting, and tone that Steinbeck had created. The major challenge of the film was to make it appear as realistic as possible rather than follow the exact plot line set by Steinbeck, which they accomplished.

Compare and Contrast: Theme, Main Idea, and Conflict

As the movie progresses, two story lines are revealed. One of the stories is the individual journey of the Joad family, and the other one is the for telling the general plight of the migrants. The director shows the individual family to express the fact that the migrants are really people and to bring their plight home to the audience. The general story is told to emphasize how it is affecting large numbers of people.

The book, however makes a different approach. Rather than evenly dividing the focus on both the family and world views, it focus much more on the world. Though there are a few chapters where Steinbeck utilizes the Joads' journey to the reader, he tends to draw out their anguish and suffering and universalizes it as the pain of the world rather than the individual.

In the movie, the shift in thinking is also accompanied with the replacement of the individual family by the world family. The thing that started the breakup of the individual family was the loss of their land. The family had lived there for many generations and had strong ties to the land. Getting thrown off the land was sort of like reflects the losing of their family origin. Though this is expressed in the book, it tends to focus on the general plight of the Okies rather than just the Joads'.
One difference that can be noted in the novel and the film is the ending. In the movie, though gaunt in many ways, has a much more positive ending, where Tom leaves the family and the family departs the haven of the desirable Government Camp on to find work in northern California compared to the stark and depressing break-up of the Joads' in the novel.

The characters that were chosen to play the parts were effective in portraying their character roles. Peter Fonda who played Tom Joad was successful in showing the depth of his character's harshness and sincerity. Tom Joad can be seen as the main protagonist. He is a strong, responsible person who doesn't like being pushed around. The portrayal of Tom in the movie accurately reflects the novel.

Conflict is, more or less, accurately played in the movie, albeit it is disproportionate in the types that are shown. While the book focuses on the man vs. world(the bank, camps, physical environment vs. man), the film pertains to the more physical altercations between Tom and the people attempting to take advantage over him and his family (police, camp guards, and employers).

Compare and Contrast: Overall

The first part of the film version follows the book fairly accurately. However, the second half and the ending in particular are significantly different from the book. While the book ends with the downfall and break-up of the Joad family, the film switches the order of sequences so that the family ends up in a "good" camp provided by the government, and events turn out relatively well.The novel's original ending was considered far too controversial to be included in the film.While the film is somewhat stark, it has a more optimistic and hopeful view than the novel, especially when the Joads' land at the Department of Agriculture camp – the clean camp. Also, the producers tone down Steinbeck's political references. The film emphasizes Ma Joad's pragmatic, forward-looking way of dealing with their situation despite Tom's departure, as it concludes with her spiritual "We're the people" speech.

It it argued that the film uses visual imagery to focus on the Joads' as a family unit, whereas the novel focuses on their journey as a part of the "family of man". She points out that their farm is never shown in detail, and that the family members are never shown working in agriculture; not a single peach is shown in the entire film. This subtly serves to focus the film on the specific family, as opposed to the novel's focus on man and land together.


1. Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking, 1939. Print.

2. The Grapes of Wrath. Dir. John Ford. Perf. Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1940. DVD.