The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck and published in April 1939, is the story of sharecroppers in Oklahoma driven from the land during the Great Depression.

The story begins with Tom Joad walking the highway in cheap new shoes.

He stops to see if he can get a ride with a truck driver parked at a roadside restaurant.  He doesn't have much farther to go, but his new shoes are hurting his feet.

In fact, all of Tom's clothes are cheap and new, given to him when he was paroled from prison in McAlester.  Tom had killed a man in a fight.

Both men had been drunk, the other man stabbed Tom, and Tom bashed his head in with a shovel.  He got seven years, but was out in four for good behavior.

Tom gets a ride with the truck driver, despite the fact that there's a No Riders sticker on the windshield. 



Tom knows the driver would like to know his story - why he would be out walking in new shoes, which the driver comments on - but he doesn't question Tom.

Instead they talk about him being on his way to his "old man's" place. He says they have forty acres, then adds, "he's a cropper, but we been there a long time".  The driver wonders how he is holding on. Says the croppers are leaving fast. He wonders why he hasn't been "dusted out" or "tractored out".

Tom admits he hasn't heard from the family lately. He says he and his old man aren't ones to write, though they both can.

They approach the dirt road that leads to the farm. Before Tom gets out of the truck, he thanks the driver, then tells him that he's been in prison, and why he was there, just because he knows the driver is curious.

Tom is walking the hot and dusty road to the house when he sees a man sitting in the shade of a tree. The man recognizes Tom and tells him he probably doesn't remember him.  Tom says he does, that he is the preacher. The preacher explains that he is no longer a preacher, just plain Jim Casy.

Casy walks with Tom to the farm. When they arrive, they are not greeted by Tom's family and one of his ma's home-cooked meals as he had hoped. Instead they find the place deserted, and a corner of the house caved in.

As Tom and Casy look things over and ponder what might have happened, an old neighbor, Muley Graves, comes along and fills them in on the latest news, and tells them the family is staying at Tom's Uncle John's place, eight miles away.

When Casy and Tom get there the next day they find what is left of the family's belongings piled in the yard beside an old Hudson car that's been converted into a truck.

They are going to California. Tom decides to go with them, though it means breaking parole. Soon there are twelve people in the beat-up old truck heading west on Route 66.

The Grapes of Wrath is the heartbreaking story of the Joad family's trek to California, the hardships along the way, and the bitter disappointment when they finally arrive.




The book was banned in several states shortly after publication. It was also widely read and often debated.

Steinbeck's social and political views were attacked because of the way he presented the circumstances of the poor.

Other complaints about The Grapes of Wrath include obscene language, sexual reference, and "unfavorable depiction of a former minister".


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