The Grapes of Wrath (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
From the moment of its publication in 1939, no twentieth century American novel has provoked more controversy and criticism for its social philosophy, alleged atheistic beliefs, and profane language than has John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Born in Salinas, California, in 1902, Steinbeck published his first novel, Cup of Gold in 1929. Many other novels followed, including The Grapes of Wrath. Many critics consider this his finest work; it won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. The Grapes of Wrath became an instant best-seller despite vehement attacks by critics, who were not limited to Californians and Oklahomans. Efforts by school boards from Kansas City, Kansas, to Buffalo, New York, to censor the book in public libraries on pornographic and political grounds were successful. Chambers of commerce and religious groups throughout the United States tried to prevent filming of the novel by producer Darryl F. Zanuck. Because of the intense furor, Zanuck sent a film crew to California to discover whether Steinbeck had exaggerated the plight of the migrants. What they discovered was worse than Steinbeck depicted, so they proceeded with the film—which later received seven Academy Award nominations.
However, Zanuck did alter certain parts of the novel, including the ending. Instead of having Rose of Sharon breast-feed a starving man after she delivered a stillborn child, the film ended with Ma Joad reaffirming the belief that common people would endure despite their hardships.
While The Grapes of Wrath was accused of exploiting the poor, using lewd and obscene language, and portraying life in a bestial, mean way, most criticism focused on two misconceptions: The novel’s alleged espousal of atheism—largely through the character of Jim Casy—and its...
(The entire section is 761 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Dust Bowl. Central region of the United States that was devastated by great dust storms during the 1930’s. The first part of The Grapes of Wrath is set in Oklahoma, at the center of the Dust Bowl. Tom Joad returns from four years in prison to find that his family has lost its farm, and many of his neighbors have been made homeless by the banks and land companies that have taken over their farms when the tenants could not keep up with their payments through several disastrous seasons. Lured by handbills distributed by West Coast growers, Tom and his family begin the long trek from the devastated Dust Bowl to the promising fields of California.
The epic structure of the novel becomes a triptych of Oklahoma/journey/California. In the intercalary chapters—those interchapters of the novel, such as five and fourteen, in which Steinbeck gives important sociohistorical background—he explains what happened to this land and why, and how the loss of their farms led thousands of “Okies” to leave for California.
*Route 66. Highway leading out of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas toward California. This narrow strip of highway, bordered by hamburger stands and gasoline pumps, is the escape route for the Joads and other families hit hardest by the Depression. It is also the place where they come together and form extended families moving westward. In the evenings, in their makeshift camps, “a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family.” Route 66 is thus the setting for one of Steinbeck’s major themes, which is how communities form and provide strength for all their members. As the Joad family loses members along the way, Ma Joad emerges as the leader and helps shape a larger, matriarchal family as others join them. “They ain’t gonna wipe us out,” she says. “Why, we’re the people—we go on.”
*California. Site of fruitful fields and bountiful crops. Steinbeck describes the Joads’ first sight of the San Joaquin Valley’s rich farming land in almost biblical language, as he does in other passages in the novel: “The vineyards, the orchards, the great flat valley, green and beautiful, the trees set in rows, and the farm houses.” The contrast to Oklahoma’s impoverished farms could not be stronger; however, Steinbeck makes it clear in intercalary chapters...
(The entire section is 987 words.)
Chapters 1-6 Questions and Answers
1. What signs were the farm women and children watching the men for?
2. Why is the truck driver who gives Tom a ride nameless?
3. Why does the truck driver break the “No Riders” rule of his company?
4. How does the land turtle foreshadow events in the story?
5. What reason does Jim Casy give for no longer preaching?
6. How did the bankers’ agents explain foreclosing on mortgages and driving the farmers off of their land?
7. What reason does Muley Graves give for sharing his rabbits?
8. What does the presence of the cat and the condition of the Joad house tell Tom?
9. Why does the author have...
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Chapters 7-11 Questions and Answers
1. How did the used car salesmen take advantage of the farmers?
2. What is Ma and Pa Joad’s first concern upon seeing Tom?
3. What is Ma’s second concern about Tom?
4. What makes Ma Joad the core and strength of the family?
5. How does Jim Casy’s behavior liken him to Jesus Christ?
6. Why did the farmers have to sell their tools and possessions for so little?
7. How do Ma and Tom feel about going to California just as the family is about to set off?
8. Why does Jim Casy ask to come along?
9. What does Ma do with the last few of her personal things, and why does she do it?
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Chapter 12-16 Questions and Answers
1. How does Steinbeck compare what actions are considered to be business and what is considered to be thievery in Chapter 12?
2. Why does the gas station attendant resent the big company stations in town?
3. How do the Joads and Wilsons help each other?
4. For what three reasons do the Joads decide to bury Grampa themselves?
5. How does Chapter 14 herald the formation of a new society, with a new attitude among the migrants?
6. How do the people in this unit represent the “haves” and “have nots” in American society during the depression?
7. Why doesn’t Ma want the truck to go on ahead when the Wilsons’ car...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapters 17-21 Questions and Answers
1. What good thing happened when the migrants stopped for the night along the highway, and why?
2. What is the first warning of trouble the Joads receive when they arrive in California?
3. What attitude of the California residents does the cop at the river represent?
4. How does the man at the river echo the ragged man at the roadside camp?
5. Why did Ma keep Granma’s death a secret at the inspection station?
6. Why didn’t the migrants organize to obtain better working and living conditions?
7. What promise of better living did the young girl indicate to Ma was available at the government camps?
8. How does...
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Chapters 22-26 Questions and Answers
1. Why don’t the police and deputies harass the people in the Weedpatch camp?
2. What makes the farmer named Thomas lower the wages he has paid to the Wallaces?
3. How does the government camp differ from the “Hoover-villes”?
4. What things does the Saturday night dance tell about the character of the migrants?
5. What kind of men are the three who come to the dance to cause trouble?
6. How does the camp committee forestall the deputies who are poised to enter the camp the night of the dance?
7. Why do the Joads leave Weedpatch and move to the peach field?
8. What is Ma’s big disappointment the first...
(The entire section is 339 words.)
Chapters 27-30 Questions and Answers
1. What is the significance of the arguments over the weight of the cotton the migrants picked?
2. How do the Joads benefit from getting to the cotton field ahead of many others?
3. Do other conditions improve for the Joads when they get work picking cotton?
4. What makes it necessary for Tom to break away from the family?
5. Why is the 20 acres of cotton picked so quickly?
6. Why were the migrant women relieved when they saw the faces of the men after all the troubles?
7. What does Mr. Wainwright’s worry about Al and Aggie reveal about him and his way of life?
8. What do Rose of Sharon’s stillborn baby and...
(The entire section is 329 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Ditsky, John, ed. Critical Essays on Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. In addition to important essays on the novel’s composition, critical reception, and other topics, this collection provides contemporary reviews of the novel and useful maps of the 1936 Dust Bowl, westward migration in the 1930’s, Route 66, and a government camp.
Donohue, Agnes McNeill. A Casebook on “The Grapes of Wrath.” New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1968. Contains thirty-seven discussions of the novel as both a social document and as literature. Also reprints Steinbeck’s 1962 Nobel Prize acceptance speech and suggests...
(The entire section is 263 words.)