For much of the book, The Grapes of Wrath is actually developed like an adventure story, although it’s not really considered to be an adventure. It’s more of a “social” novel, concerned with plight of a poor family that is representative of many families who were in the same difficulties in depression-era America. What it has in common with the more commercially oriented adventure story is the fact that much of the book centers around a journey. The journey brings out the best and the worst of the characters, and they learn important truths while they are on the journey. In the Joads’ case, they are journeying from dust-bowl ravaged Oklahoma to California, hoping for work.
Steinbeck breaks from the pattern of the typical narrative with the careful attention he gives to the land. In fact, it is almost as if the land is a character in the story. Steinbeck thinks so much of the importance of the land to the characters and to this country that he devotes the first chapter to describing it. The very first sentence of the book is, “To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.”
Most writers would probably consider writing about the earth and rain to be too unexciting, but Steinbeck expects his readers to have an appreciation for its centrality in the characters’ lives. He actually alternates passages of human-based narrative with these natural descriptions repeatedly in the novel. In his mind, as the land goes, so go the people.