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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE NOVEL OTHER ELEMENTS

STYLE

It's hard not to be impressed by the richness of language in The Grapes of Wrath.

Most of the writing is straightforward narrative prose. But some of the prose is highly poetic, crowded with sensual images ("The dust-filled air muffled sound more completely than fog does") and figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, and personifications ("The full green hills are round and soft as breasts"). Look especially at passages about nature, such as Steinbeck's descriptions of the drought in Chapter 1 and of California springtime in Chapter 25.

An entire chapter turns out to be an extended metaphor. The turtle (Chapter 3) exemplifies endurance and perseverance, qualities that we see demonstrated again and again by the Joads and other migrants.


Steinbeck writes dialogue as the people spoke it. Spelling is unorthodox because the migrant people drop the sounds of certain letters, like the g in words ending in ing, and often slur two words into one, as in Pa'd, meaning Pa would. The people's speech is dappled with expressions such as "a walkin' chunk a mean-mad" and "billy-goatin' aroun'." There's no doubt that the dialogue slows down your reading, but Steinbeck sought the likeness of truth, even though the characters are fictional. Besides, who'd want to read a book about migrants who sound like English teachers?

In some of the interchapters, Steinbeck uses still another style of writing. He bombards you with phrases, bits of spoken conversation, half-thoughts, expressions- a collage of words to give you an impression of a place or an event. You have to fill in the details. For example, what actually happens at the used-car lots (Chapter 7) and in the cotton fields (Chapter 27)?

 

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