Illustration of the back a man in a hat and overalls looking towards the farmland

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck
Start Free Trial

Where did Steinbeck come up with the title for the book The Grapes of Wrath?

Expert Answers

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

The title of Steinbeck's novel comes from the biblical book of Revelation, chapter 14:19–20:

And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine press ...

The book of Revelation is prophecy about the end times, when history as we understand it will come to an end. After great battles with Satan (or his minions), justice will triumph. Heaven and earth will merge, the light of justice will burn eternally, and God will come among humans and rule his people himself, wiping away all tears of sorrow.

However, because the New Jerusalem of heaven and earth's merger cannot be enacted with evil still reigning on earth, there will be a great reckoning, in which the wicked will pay for their sins. The quote above alludes to that time, when God will enact justice and destroy all the evil people, squeezing them like grapes pressed in a wine press so that their blood runs out like wine.

Steinbeck, a communist, saw the evils of the Great Depression and the suffering of families like the Joads. His title is warning that justice will rise up against the wicked. Communists, like Christians, see an end of history. In the Marxist worldview this will culminate in a bloody revolution that will usher in a Utopic age in which the state will wither on the vine.

A reference to the grapes of wrath comes late in the novel:

In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Statements like this, as well as the book's title, warn that exploited people are getting angry at their treatment and will soon rise up if steps are not taken to enact justice.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team