What literary devices are used in Chapter 16 of The Grapes of Wrath?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter Sixteen of The Grapes of Wrath, there are several literary devices at work:

Figurative language

  • Steinbeck describes the Joad and Wilson families as in flight across the Panhandle, a country "lined and cut with old flood scars," with "scar" as metaphor for the flood lines.
  • Another metaphor occurs near the end of the chapter as the one-eyed man returns to his mattress and cries as the cars whiz past, only strengthening "the walls of his loneliness."
  • A simile is used in the description of the vastness of land: "The land rolled like great stationary ground swells."
  • Another simile occurs as Rose of Sharon is described,

She tried to arch her whole body as a rigid container to perserve her fetus from shock.

  • Casy mentions his observation of all the cars headed to California and uses a simile: "...it's like they was runnin' away from soldiers."
  • Granma has dementia and acts "[L]ike a little baby." Earlier, she lay back and opened her jaw, baying, Al says, "'like a moonlight hound' dog.'"
  • There is another simile in the description of the Panhandle's land as it "rolled like great stationary ground swells."

Color imagery is utilized to suggest mood:

A huge red billboard stood beside the road ahead, and it threw a great oblong shadow.

Later Al is red with anger and the family has "shadows" of problems.


  • "The land turtles crawled through the dust..." Since Chapter III, the turtle has been symbolic of the the Joads and other families who have persevered.
  • When Ma revolts against the men's decision for Tom and the preacher to remain behind and fix the truck, she then becomes symbolically "the power" as she takes control of the family, retaining its unity.  This act represents the later organization and unification of the migrant workers. 


  • Tom's leadership abilities are demonstrated as he talks with the one-eyed man at the gast station where he and Casy go in order to find a replacement rod for the truck.  Tom is able to point to the man's faults and motivate him to clean up and be encourage enough to desire going to California himself.
  • That there may be hostility ahead of them is also foreshadowed as Tom is confronted by the proprietor of a camp where the rest of his family is. This proprietor wants to charge Tom to pull in.  "He was watchful and ringed with trouble."
  • Most foreboding of all is Tom's encounter with the poor man returning from California who says that he is returning to starve because too many people are going to apply for too few jobs.  Much like the Chorus of a Greek tragedy, the men that the Joads meet along the road to California presage doom for the family.
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The Grapes of Wrath

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