The Grapes of Wrath explores the changing, restless nature of society through the Joad family. John Steinbeck’s novel begins with the Joad family facing a major change. They have to leave their farm due to changes in the environment, the economy, and technology. Oklahoma farmers like the Joads had to deal with the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the arrival of tractors. As one of the beneficiaries of tractors admits early on in the novel, “One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve of fourteen families.” In other words, the tractors will put a lot of families out of business.
Considering these external factors, it might be worth pointing out the main reason why the Joad family is on the go. They’re not uprooting themselves by choice; rather, events beyond their control have sent them in motion. Through the Joad family, it’s possible to claim that Steinbeck is exploring how a transforming, unstable country can produce unsettled, precarious citizens.
One could draw the conclusion that, in the context of Steinbeck’s novel, people in power don’t want the everyday person to feel secure or sturdy. After struggling to find a decent camp, the Joads locate a tolerable place that’s run by the government. However, the police plan to shut down the camp by fomenting a riot. This development will create further change and restlessness—particularly for Tom Joad.