Summary of the Novel
Tom Joad, a prison parolee, meets Jim Casy, a preacher who has given up his calling. They go to Tom’s home looking for his family, but the Joad farm and all those around it are deserted. They are told the Joads are living with Tom’s Uncle John. Arriving at Uncle John’s house, they learn the family has lost their farm and are making preparations to sell their belongings and move to California in search of promised work.
With Casy accompanying them, the Joads encounter many hardships on the road west, and the family crumbles. Grampa dies the first night he is separated from his beloved land. Granma dies while they are crossing the Arizona desert. Noah and Connie give up and leave the family. The further west they go, the more resistant and unfriendly the people are.
In California the family goes from camp to camp in a futile search for work and their living conditions worsen. Jim Casy organizes a strike against the unfair low wages being paid and is killed. Tom kills Jim’s murderer and goes into hiding. He leaves the family to continue Casy’s work. The Joads move to a cottonfield where the pay is better.
Rose of Sharon delivers a stillborn baby during a fearful storm. The family has to abandon their boxcar home to escape the resultant flood. Taking refuge in a hillside barn, they discover a young boy and his near-dead, starving father who is saved when Rose feeds him from her milk-filled breasts.
Estimated Reading Time
The average person should be able to read the entire novel in a total of approximately 12 to 18 hours.
It is suggested that the reading of the novel be divided into the three blocks indicated. These three blocks divide the story into what happens in Oklahoma, on the journey west, and after the migrants arrive in California.
If desired, the reading can be further broken down into the six sub-units listed. In this study guide, study questions and suggested essay topics follow the summary and discussion of each of the six sub-units.
BLOCK ONE: LEAVING OKLAHOMA Reading Time: 4–6 hrs.
Unit I Chapters 1–6: 2–3 hrs.
Unit II Chapters 7–11: 2–3 hrs.
BLOCK TWO: THE JOURNEY WEST Reading Time: 4–6 hrs.
Unit III Chapters 12–16: 2–3 hrs.
Unit IV Chapters 17–21: 2–3 hrs.
BLOCK THREE: LIFE IN CALIFORNIA Reading Time: 4–6 hrs.
Unit V Chapters 22–26: 3–4 hrs.
Unit VI Chapters 27–30: 1–2 hrs.