The Grapes of Wrath is a work of fiction written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 but was not awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature until 1962. When The Grapes of Wrath was finally recognized by the Swedish Academy, they described the book as "an epic chronicle". The work is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes. A celebrated Hollywood film version was made in 1940, starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford.
Set in the Great Depression, the popular proletarian novel, in which descriptive, narrative, and philosophical passages succeed one another, tells the story of a family of sharecroppers, the Joads - 'Okie' farmers driven from their land by drought and the Dust Bowl, and forced to endure the hardships of migrant workers moving West.
Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men at his home, 16250 Greenwood Lane, in what is now Monte Sereno, California.
The family's name, "Joad", is similar to the first name of the Biblical figure Job (pronounced "Jobe"), who suffered greatly when tested, but remained faithful. The novel details the nearly hopeless situation of the downtrodden American farmer in the years of the Great Depression, and emphasizes cooperative solutions to the social problems brought about by industrialization.
The novel's title
Steinbeck had a tough time coming up with a title. "The Grapes of Wrath", suggested by his wife, Carol, was deemed more suitable than anything the author himself could come up with. The title is a reference to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe:
The narrative begins from Tom Joad's point of view just after he is paroled from prison after serving four years for manslaughter. On his journey home, he meets a preacher, Jim Casy, whom he remembers from his childhood and the two travel together. When they arrive at Tom's childhood farm home, they find it deserted. Disconcerted, he and Casy go to his Uncle John's residence a few miles away, where he finds his family loading a truck with everything they own for a move; he learns that his family's crops were destroyed in the Dust Bowl and they were forced to default on outstanding loans. With their farm repossessed, the Joads seek solace in hope; hope enscribed on handbills that are distributed everywhere in Oklahoma, describing the beautiful country and high wages to be found out west. The Joads, along with Jim Casy, are seduced by this facade, and invest everything they have into the journey (although leaving Oklahoma would be breaking parole, Tom decides that it is a risk, albeit minimal, that he has to take).
En route, they discover that the roads and highways are saturated with thousands of other families making the same trek, ensnared by the same promise. As the Joads continue and hear stories from others, some coming back from California, they are forced to confront the possibility that their prospects may not be what they had hoped. This realization, bolstered by the deaths of Grandpa and Grandma, and the departure of Noah (the eldest Joad son) and Connie (the husband of the pregnant Joad daughter, Rose-of-Sharon), is forced from their thoughts: they must go on as they have no other choice.
Upon arrival, they find hordes of applicants for every job and little hope of finding a decent wage, due to the oversupply of labour, lack of rights, and the collusion of the agrarian industry. The tragedy lies in the simplicity and impossibility of their dream: a house, a family, and a steady job.
In response to the exploitation of labourers, the workers begin to join trade unions. The surviving members of the family unknowingly work on an orchard involved in a strike that eventually turns violent, killing the preacher Casy and forcing Tom Joad to kill again and become a fugitive. He bids farewell to his mother, promising that no matter where he runs, he will be a tireless advocate for the proletariat. Rose-of-Sharon's baby is stillborn; however, Ma Joad remains steadfast and forces the family through the bereavement. In the end, Rose-of-Sharon commits a selfless and beautiful act: she breast feeds a starving and dying old man, laying all her societal inhibitions aside to save a life. This final act illustrates the depravity to which the 'Okies' are forced to submit, but also the endurance of humanity.
Awards and nominations
The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The Grapes of Wrath was banned immediately upon its publication in 1939 in Kern County, California, where a great part of the novel is set. The official reason given was the coarse language it contained, and the "nudity" (breast feeding) scene at the end of the book. However, the driving force behind the banning was the Associated Farmers of Kern County. The book is frequently banned in schools across the United States, and in 1986, in Graves County, Kentucky, an adult was arrested for possession of a copy.
In popular song