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

Sample Essay Outlines

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to get you started.

  • Topic #1:
    As the Joad clan begins to disintegrate under the pressure of migration, there is evidence to support that the family shifts from a patriarchal structure to a matriarchal one. Trace the progression of this change by analyzing and discussing key examples from the novel.

    I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck shows Ma Joad as the strong force who realizes the true value and meaning of life.

    II. Patriarchal structure in early chapters
    A. Gathering to plan trip
    B. Posture and position of men
    C. Location of women

    III. Focus of family life changes to truck
    A. Contents of truck
    B. Orders issued by Ma
    C. Eyes of characters predict change

    IV. Ma asserts authority
    A. Incident of jack handle
    B. Savagery of California deputies
    C. Contradiction of Pa’s feelings that “life’s over and done with”
    D. Structure of life at Weedpatch
    E. Confrontation with camp manager

    V. Ma takes actions
    A. Decides to move from camp
    B. Plans Tom’s escape from the peach ranch
    C. Controls the family’s money
    D. Finds work for the family

    VI. Ma makes life and death decisions
    A. Leads family from boxcar
    B. Encourages Rose of Sharon to save a dying man

    VII. Conclusion: Because of her personal strength and concerns
    Ma Joad becomes the head of the family.

  • Topic #2:
    It has been implied by literary critics that Steinbeck uses Christianity and its traditions as a major base in his fiction, and that The Grapes of Wrath is both a parable and an allegory. Discuss this idea, giving examples from the novel that support this idea.

    I. Thesis Statement: John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is a parable exploring Christian traditions.

    II. Characters—Family
    A. Names with Biblical antecedents
    B. Significance of family size
    C. Family’s connection with the earth

    III. Christ-Casy relationship
    A. Casy’s whereabouts before entering book
    B. Initials of name
    C. Rejection of old religion
    D. Knowledge of the “oversoul”
    E. Acceptance of the sins of others
    F. Circumstances of Casy’s death
    G. Tom as disciple

    IV. Physical comparisons
    A. Family driven from land by nature
    B. People persecuted
    C. Wander through life looking for a promised land
    D. Survival of a great flood

    V. Symbolism
    A. Title of novel
    B. Casy’s last words and death
    C. Tom to carry on Casy’s work
    D. Rose of Sharon’s gift of life

    VI. Conclusion: Casy as the Christ figure gives up his life so that his message can live on.

  • Topic #3:
    The family is a universal symbol of the need for group effort and support to accomplish the greater good for the greater number of people. Trace the growth of the Joad family as they become members of the unity of all mankind.

    I. Thesis Statement: The Joads’ journey west is also a journey from personal concerns to concern for all humanity.

    II. Family unit leaves Oklahoma
    A. Grampa, the individual, dies
    B. Granma dies

    III. Family unit expands
    A. Casy joins the group
    B. Wilsons join with the Joads
    C. Families camp together at night

    IV. Government camp
    A. Men create and enforce their own laws
    B. Women share ideas and resources
    C. Casy takes the blame for Tom
    D. People exchange information and help
    E. Ma feeds the hungry children
    F. Men share work with Tom

    V. Cotton fields
    A. Joads share home with another family
    B. Tom leaves to work for all humanity
    C. All men work together to build dam
    D. Rose of Sharon gives life to a dying man

    VI. Conclusion: The economic decline of the Joad family is directly responsible for their acceptance of a larger humanitarian problem.

  • Topic #4:
    One prevalent theme of The Grapes of Wrath is the concept that strength comes from unity. Analyze situations in which Tom Joad, as a major protagonist, discovers and acts on this concept.

    I. Thesis Statement: Steinbeck’s development of Tom Joad’s character reveals a major theme of the novel.

    II. Tom’s early background
    A. Released from prison
    B. No remorse for crime
    C. Anxious for personal comfort
    D. Refuses to hide on his own land

    III. Treatment after release from prison
    A. Individuality threatened
    B. Independence threatened
    C. Personal decency threatened

    IV. Reactions and actions
    A. Exposure to government camp
    B. Kills again
    C. Recognizes importance of family unit
    D. Foregoes personal comforts

    V. Considers Casy’s philosophies
    A. Accepts all the world as a family
    B. Determines to carry out Casy’s work in practical ways

    VI. Conclusion: Tom realizes that all mankind is his family and without unity, this family has no power.

  • Topic #5:

    It has been suggested that The Grapes of Wrath is unique in that it encompasses the spectrum of all four literary conflicts. Discuss and give examples of the Joad family’s encounters with
    1) man against man.
    2) man against society.
    3) man against nature.
    4) man against himself.

    I. Thesis Statement: The Grapes of Wrath depicts ordinary people in their struggles to overcome a variety of conflicts.

    II. Man against man
    A. Tom kills in self-defense
    B. Men must buy inferior cars and parts
    C. Men must sell belongings for unfair prices
    D. Joads encounter policemen
    E. Development of land ownership in California
    F. Migrants turn against other migrants
    G. Casy is killed for trying to organize the migrants
    H. Tom kills again

    III. Man against society
    A. Tom is in prison for murder
    B. Landowners are forced to evict tenants
    C. Tom’s parole modifies his actions
    D. Coining of the word “Okie”
    E. Families are forced to go to Tulare
    F. Farmers’ Association rules are imposed
    G. Tom settles disputes with violence

    IV. Man against nature
    A. Oklahoma drought causes loss of home
    B. Noah is injured at birth
    C. Grampa dies
    D. Granma dies
    E. Rains cause flooding and loss of truck
    F. Rose of Sharon becomes ill and loses baby
    G. Flood drives Joads from temporary home
    H. Rose of Sharon acts to save a dying man

    V. Man against himself
    A. Tom’s reaction to the truck driver’s curiosity
    B. Casy’s feelings about his preaching
    C. Uncle John’s self-punishment through guilt
    D. Noah’s feelings of being unloved
    E. Ma’s decision to feed the hungry children
    F. Pa’s depression and resignation
    G. Rose of Sharon’s worry that her baby will be born deformed

    VI. Conclusion: The Grapes of Wrath explores all literary conflicts as the Joad family struggles to survive.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Critical Evaluation