The Grapes of Wrath

by: Claire Walker

About the Editor

John Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902 in Salinas, CA. He dropped out of college and worked as a manual laborer before becoming successful as a writer. He won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck served as a war correspondent during World War II. He then died in New York City in 1968.

Meaning of Title: "The Grapes of Wrath"

This phrase comes from a string of lyrics from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe:

"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;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible sword:

His truth is marching on."

In The Grapes of Wrath, a part of the story tells of how food is purposely being destroyed to maintain the incredibly high prices which shows how wrath is evoked. The grapes of wrath themselves represent the wrath and resentment that grew in the workers hearts as they discovered their lack of money and food would only lead them to more suffering.


Set during the Great Depression, the novel follows a poor family of sharecroppers, the Joads, who are driven from their home by drought, economic struggles, and changes to the agriculture industry. They set out for California's Central Valley along with thousands of other Oklahoma natives in search of land, jobs, and food.

Literary Context

This novel had a lot of elements of Modernism present in its themes. One of the biggest examples of this is Social Evils. Steinbeck does not tread lightly when showing how poverty and social woes affected families. He contradicted the idyllic American life shown in other literature given the time period, and allowed the Great Depression to affect him greatly as he wrote this novel.

Historical Context

This book connects greatly with how the Great Depression affect farming families. Given Steinbeck's experience with manual labor on farms, he was able to right a testimonial into a book that would be easily accessible during the time. Although this book was published near the end of the Great Depression, 1939, it culminated the experience of families and farmers that struggled with poverty into one book.

Themes of Each Issue

  • Humanity and Dehumanization: The Joads experience the most adversity from the people who could've helped the most, the more fortunate families.
  • Dignity, Honor, and Wrath: The Joads are very unwilling to accept help from anyone and when they do, they try to repay their debt as soon as possible. To show their level of dignity, the Joads don't want to pay less than a food stamp of food because if it cost less or was given to them for free, that would be considered stealing.
  • Faith and Guilt: Another main character, Casy, who used to be a preacher, faces a lot of struggles with his faith and is often forced to portray a more religious person than he truly is.
  • Perseverance and Resistance: The Joads persevere through having their home taken from them and how powerless they are to the land-owners.

  • Human Nature: I think Steinbeck is giving us a look at how the migrants come together as an extended family when they make camp. Their "world" has changed since they left the farm. Now beneath the starlight, they create different worlds. They realize they only need family to create a home rather than one place to go to at all times.

Connections to other Newsletters

12 Angry Men:

  • class levels
  • humanity
  • dignity
  • setting
  • time period