John Steinbeck was born in Californiaís Salinas Valley in 1902. He grew up there, about 25 miles from the Pacific coast and this was the setting for many of his books. Steinbeck went to Stanford University in San Francisco in 1919 to study literature. He left, however, in 1925 without a degree. After college he moved to New York where he worked as a journalists. His works include Cup of Gold (1929), The Pastures of Heaven (1932), To God Unknown (1933), The Long Valley (1938), The Tortilla Flat (1935), Of Mice and Men (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), and The Forgotten Village (1941). He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962
In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck discusses one families trip to the west and the struggles trying to survive there.
The east is a vast collection of farmland filled with few growing crops and a whole lotta dust. The farmers are making little money and are forced off of their land by the bank.
Tom Joad walks down the street and gets a ride down the road by a trucker. After walking toward his house, he meets Casy, a former preacher who is sitting under a tree. They begin to talk and Tom explains that he was in prison for killing a person that pulled a knife on him. They walk together to Tomís house but finds that it is deserted. A friend Muley Graves tells them that the Joads moved to Uncle Johnís house and are planning to move west to California. The next morning they go to Uncle Johnís house. There Tom meets his family again who are relieved since they were planning to leave the next day without Tom. Tomís relatives are Granpa and Granma, Tomís Grandparents, Ma and Pa (also named Tom Joad), Tomís parents, Noah, Rose of Sharon, Al, Ruthie and Winfield, Tomís brotherís and sisters, Connie, Rose of Sharonís husband, and Casy. The next morning when they are about to leave, Granpa refuses to go. The family has to get him drunk in order to force him to go. On the road, the Joadís meet the Wilsonís stranded on the highway with a broken car. Al and Tom fix their car. Granpa dies and the Wilsonís help bury him. The two families decide that it would be easier if they travelled together so they set off. On the road, they stop at several camps and finds out through some people that there is no work in California. Still, they push on. In Arizona, they stop by a river and wash up. There, they are hassled by a policeman. Noah decides to stay at the river and no one can change his mind. Mrs. Wilson became sick so they decided to stay at the river while the Joadís go on. Crossing California, Granma dies and the family has to bury her a pauper since they are out of money.
In California, they stop at a camp filled with other migrants. There they meet Floyd Knowles to explains to them that there is no work and the wages are down. He says that the police will arrest anyone they donít like. Connie and Rose talk about their future. Later, Connie leaves the tent and never comes back leaving his pregnant wife. During the evening, an employer comes to the camp promising work. Floyd, however, knows the system and that the employer is trying to get a lot of workers so he can lower the wages. The employer came prepared with a cop who tries to arrest Floyd but Floyd punches him and runs. As the cop runs after Floyd, Tom trips him and the cop shoot toward Floydís direction hitting a bystander and shooting off her fingers. Casy them comes along and kicks the cop in the neck knocking him out. Everyone runs except Casy who turns himself in as the troublemaker. The cop threatens that he will burn down the camp at night. The Joadís leave that night traveling south to a government camp that they heard about.
Luckily, when they reach there, there is only one spot left. In the morning, Tom leaves with two people he met at the camp and gets a job digging ditches for pipes. Their employer warns them that some people are going to cause trouble in the camp at the dance on Saturday in attempt to break up the camp. The residents at the camp were ready for them and the attempt was unsuccessful in breaking up the camp.
Work runs out by the government camp so the Joadís have to move on looking for work. They find a peach orchard that needs harvesting so they go to work there. Tom in the night, sneaks out of the orchard and finds Casy who is with some other people on strike to raise wages. Some people come by to break up the strike calling the strikers reds (people who want higher pay). One person hits Casy alongside the head crushing him skull and killing him. Tom gets furious and kills the person that killed Casy but in the struggle, he too gets hit and is bruised and bleeding. Eventually he evades his persuers and makes it back to the camp. The Joadís decide that itís too dangerous for Tom since he killed another person so they decide to leave the orchard and find another place to work while Tom is in hiding until his face heals.
They reach a cotton field that needs picking so they begin working their while living in a boxcar shared with the Wainwrightís. Al falls in love with Agnes Wainwright and announces that they are going to get married. They work there at that cotton field and at another one when it begin to rain. It rains for several days and floods the valley. Some men try to divert the water by building a dyke but it breaks when a fallen tree crashes through it. Meanwhile, Rose of Sharon goes into labor but gives birth to a dead baby. The water keeps rising into the boxcar So the Joadís and the Wainwrightís build a platform in the boxcar above the water to keep from getting wet. After the rain stop, some of the Joadís look for higher ground and the wade through chest deep water toward a barn where they meet a boy and his starving father. The boy explains that the man gave up his food to keep the boy healthy. Now, the man canít digest even bread. Rose of Sharon decides to feed her breast milk to the man.
The plot was good and did move along smoothly, out of the actions of the characters. There was enough conflict to keep me interested. However, there were certain things that just didnít make sense. For example, Roseís miscarriage. The Jehovite at the government camp told Rose that sin will cause the baby to ďdrop dead.Ē Rose believed her, even though it made no sense scientifically. It was just an superstition and an old wivesí tale. Later, Roseís baby ďdrops dead.Ē This just didnít make sense. It is true that Rose didnít get the proper nutrients when she was pregnant, but Steinbeck didnít talk about that. He only focused on the superstition, as if the baby died as a result of the familyís sin. Steinbeck seemed to condone superstition here. More than that, it was totally unexpected. The book was nearing the end and it was at its climax. As a good book should end, the victims triumph over their sufferings. That would mean the Joadís survive the storm, with a healthy baby. Thatís what I expected.
The ending was horrible. That did not make any sense at all. Rose feeds the old man, great! What happened to Tom? What happened to Connie? What happened to the family after the rain? Did they strike it rich in California or did they live as bums the rest of their lives? The first two questions I think should have been answered, the last two donít matter as much. I had other questions that didnít regard the Joadís. What happened to Floyd and his family? Did the strike work?
I liked Steinbeckís characterizations of his characters. I thought that I knew them. I associated myself with Tom. He was strong and had principals. He knew that his people were being oppressed and was willing to fight against it. Ma was another character that was strong, but in a different way. She didnít have these principals like Tom did, but her strength was with the family. She kept the family together and encouraged them saying they would get through this. Al, he was just a typical hormone driven teen. He breaks up with one girl whom he promised to marry, and the next day, he promises another girl. Heís boasts about his brother and heís prideful of his abilities with cars.
Tom Joad: Tom was sent to prison for killing a person who held a knife at him. He also killed the person who killed Casy. He never grew angry at nothing but at something. He fought because he was being oppressed.
Ma Joad: She led and held the family together, encouraging them that they would get through their trouble.
Pa Joad: He was the father of the Joad family and really didnít do much after Ma took over.
Al Joad: He was the hormone driven brother of Tom. He never cared much about anything except girls. He wanted to become a mechanic.
Uncle John: John was always blaming himself for his wifeís death and thought that it would bring trouble to the family.
Rose of Sharon: She was the wife of Connie and very weak. The Jehovite said she would drop her baby and Rose believed her. She did nothing without Connie and felt lousy when he left. (I felt like slapping her when she kept complaining about not having Connie.)
Connie: He was very timid. He talked about what he would do in the future but never did anything about it. Whether he would have, I donít know. When life got tough, he chickened out.
Ruthie and Winfield: The youngest people of the Joad family. They pretty much make a game and an adventure out of this whole ordeal.
Jim Casy: He was a preacher but gave it up seeing that living holy was just too hard. He still had the wisdom of a preacher and some of it rubbed off on Tom.
The setting is very real. Like with East of Eden, Steinbeck lived in this area. The area is important in this novel. It is what caused the trouble for the Joadís. Much of the events in the book depended on the setting.
The style was good. Steinbeck wrote with meaning. His writing wasnít flowery and it was easy to read. However, the way he laid out this book got bothersome at times. For every chapter where something happens, he had to have another chapter just to introduce it. He described the places and the events well, really capturing the mood of the area.
The theme of this book was the struggle of man to push ahead against all odds. The Joad family moved west looking for a better life and found out that it wasnít. They decided to work hard and buy a house and raise themselves from their position of poverty. This is the struggle of all men: to do better.
I really enjoyed this book. It instilled in me a desire to push forward against my oppressors. The weak and the poor have their own strength of goodness and truth which will overpower the power of the rich which comes from greed.