Sample Essay Outlines

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...

(The entire section is 1117 words.)