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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE NOVEL OTHER ELEMENTS

THEMES

By and large, the major themes in The Grapes of Wrath are listed here in the order they show up in the book. It's up to you to decide which are more important than others. Reviewing the text of the novel itself will certainly help.

  1. THE BOND BETWEEN LAND AND PEOPLE

    Unless you depend on the land for your livelihood, you'll probably never fully understand how strongly a man can be bound to his land. For the tenant farmers of the novel, to be torn away from their land is a shattering experience, akin to death itself. That's why Muley Graves stays behind like a "graveyard ghos'" and Grampa dies shortly after the start of the westward journey.

  2. THE EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY

    Even though The Grapes of Wrath takes place in the 20th century, the tenant farmers rely on growing methods of bygone days. That's one reason the farmers are poor and likely to remain so. Because machines can make land profitable, landowning banks send in tractors and dozers. Machine drivers lose touch with the soil; in effect, they become nonhuman pieces of equipment. Without feeling a thing, therefore, they can rumble across the land and knock down anything in their way.

  3. CASTING OFF THE OLD WAYS

    When the Joads change from farm people to road people, they have to cast off not only many of their belongings, but their habits and customs as well.

    Grampa refuses to do it. Ma agonizes over throwing her family letters and clippings into the fire. Casy salts the pork even though it's "women's work." Even the leadership of the Joads must pass to Ma before the family can assume a new identity. It's a painful time for most of them, but the promise of a better tomorrow drives them forward.


  4. THE HUMAN FAMILY

    People need each other every step of the way. Muley knows he has to share his rabbit with Tom and Casy. The Wilsons can't go on without assistance from the Joads. The Wallaces invite Tom to work with them. Mrs. Wainwright aids Rose of Sharon in childbirth. Rose of Sharon offers her milk to a dying man. You'll have no problem finding many more instances of people helping people in the novel.

  5. GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE

    Only in the government camp at Weedpatch do the migrant people find safety and comfort. It's the federal, not the state government that provides refuge. Within the camp itself, people make the rules and select leaders. God helps those who help themselves, the saying goes, but a little help from a benevolent government doesn't hurt.

  6. UNIONS

    The song "Solidarity Forever" is the anthem of the American labor movement. When workers stick together in a righteous cause, they can accomplish anything. But you have to be prepared to make sacrifices. You can't give in to threats, and above all, you must remain united. If you break with your brother, you'll be hurting both him and yourself.

  7. GRAPES OF WRATH

    Anger in many guises dominates the book. Why else call it The Grapes of Wrath? The tenant farmers are angry at the landowners. Roadside characters such as the one-eyed man are angry with themselves. Californians' fear of the migrants turns to anger. And most of all, the migrants are angry. In a land of plenty, they are starving. They should be angry about that, and so should we!

  8. QUEST FOR THE DOLLAR

    The pursuit of money is a perfectly legitimate activity in our society. But what happens when, in the quest for the dollar, human values are forgotten? Banks force people from their homes; big farmers eat up little farmers; landowners exploit workers; food is burned and buried; people starve. At what point does the pursuit of money turn into a crime?

  9. ENDURANCE

    The Grapes of Wrath is a story of endurance. You have to marvel at how many of the characters, especially Ma Joad, can put up with such a relentless barrage of trouble, and still go on. Men must be made of sturdy stuff to keep trying in the face of adversity brought on by both nature and other men.

 

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