Explain the style of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

[eNotes editors are only permitted to answer one question per posting. Additional questions should be posted separately.]

John Steinbeck's was able to convey the desperation of people during extreme adversity in his works set during the Great Depression. Steinbeck writes about this in his novella, Of Mice and Men, and again in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, which follows a family across the country as they search for a better life during this time period.

The Grapes of Wrath is about the Joad family: they are disenfranchised like so many others during the 1930s. Steinbeck's first-hand experience with the desperation of the poor came while he worked as a reporter in Salinas, California (in the area know as the Long Valley), where Of Mice and Men is set. This novel is set in...

...the San Joaquin Valley, which lies east of the Long Valley and the Gabilan Mountains.

The themes of alienation and loss are seen in the story of the Joads, as well as the individual vs society, class conflict, commitment, etc.

Steinbeck's style is unusual with the author's use of "point of view," or the perspective from which the story is told. Third person is used here, and while the story of the Joads is told in the even-numbered chapters, the details of the Depression are generally presented in the odd-numbered chapters that act like a commentary to the reader, and provide...

...social and historical background of the mid-1930s Depression era, especially as it affects migrants...

The reader is also exposed to a great deal of information, from...

...the Dust Bowl and agricultural conditions in Oklahoma, to California’s history, to descriptions of roads leading west...

Steinbeck uses the "even" chapters to convey the sense of family that has been so devastated by the destruction of the economy, especially seen in the character of Ma Joad as she tries desperately to keep her family intact. The will to survive is a strong theme in the story, as well.

Another aspect of the style of the novel is Steinbeck's ability to provide…

...remarkable descriptions of the environment and nature’s effects on social history.

The plight of migrant workers, which Steinbeck introduced in Of Mice and Men, is unusual. Steinbeck is well ahead of his time in describing the lives of people who worked under such wretched conditions (as well as the farmers trying to stand up to "corporate farms") something that would not be addressed until the 1970s. (Farming boomed at the end of World War I, but over-investments in equipment, etc., financially burdened farmers when Europe was able again to grow its own crops, and then the Depression truly destroyed the small-farming industry in the U.S.)

A final aspect of Steinbeck's style is found in his use of symbolism. The trials and tribulations of the Joad family symbolize the larger "American family," (nationwide) describing its "strengths and weaknesses" much like the Joads. Financial disaster is not all that the people of the U.S. faced. For example, the Joads also faced danger in nature as they traveled so far to start over, as well as the threats inherent in a society where people were desperate to stay alive. The theme of "family" is clear in the characters of the Joad family as they approach the end of their journey. Achieving their own identity—stolen when they were forced to leave Oklahoma—is also central to the story's plot.

Additional Source:


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial