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History in “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck


The book Grapes of Wrath is a national epic written by John Steinbeck. In this text, the author reveals the socio-political life of the country during the crisis years. Against the backdrop of this narrative, Steinbeck talks about the fate of the Joad family – one of many thousands of families caught between the millstones of the crisis machine (Steinbeck 10). The purpose of this writing is to analyze the core of the novel by Steinbeck and discuss the impressions of the author of this paper.

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General Discussion

The Joad family loaded their belongings in an old car and headed to the West, where they met other people who were driving to California because of the drought affecting their lives in their hometowns. The family saw half a million desperate people driving along the American roads, who were running out of money and food, who had no work, and this made the family’s consciousness change (Steinbeck 25). Important features of the national identity, such as unity and solidarity were born from troubles and hardships.

Interestingly, the novel has a linear composition since the core of the narrative is the road to the place of hope – California. When traveling, people are faced with illnesses, the death of senior family members, suffering, and insecurity (Steinbeck 185). The Joad family finds itself in the camp of migrants on their road to California. The realities are far from their homes since the family experiences humiliating job searches and clashes with the police.


The main person in the family and its soul is the mother since she is a woman with great willpower and a sensitive person who understands ordinary people and has faith. Despite all the challenges, she maintains the clarity of thought and tries to convey her awareness to her children. The main idea of the entire novel is transmitted through the image of the mother, who is convinced that salvation lies in unity and mutual assistance (Wagner-Martin 47).

Nevertheless, the patriarchal family structure collapses in the book, and the family breaks up. Al gets married, pa’s brother John goes down the river, and only Tom decides to devote himself to the struggle for the rights of people. The title of the novel has a symbolic meaning because it expresses social protest and the tragic fate of the American people and transmits the author’s desire to test naturalistic motivations.


The novel left a feeling of understatement, and impressions from it will change in the long term. In order to comprehend the whole depth of the book, it is necessary to refer to it at different stages of life. It may be assumed that the author tried to identify real-life circumstances that turned the heroes of the novel – ordinary farmers and Joads, in particular – into homeless vagabonds (Wagner-Martin 50).

His task was to oppose successful, wealthy people with ordinary hard workers. Bypassing the heroes through all the challenges, Steinbeck shows the transition of a person from individualistic consciousness to a higher-level one. This was the most powerful impression of the entire novel. Severe barriers give rise to an unfamiliar thirst for a joint struggle in the hearts of the heroes of the novel – a thirst for solidarity with other ordinary people.

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After reading the novel, the author of this paper started to understand the social reality of the United States of that historical period better. In particular, feelings such as justice, self-esteem, and a sense of community were desecrated (Wagner-Martin 61). This situation provoked the gradual maturation of anger among ordinary workers against those who were oppressing them. The class consciousness of the ordinary people escalated under the influence of severe challenges and led to an understanding of the need to fight for their rights. This was one of the greatest revelations both in terms of US history and American society in particular.


Thus, it can be concluded that the book by John Steinbeck is a large-scale canvas that has changed the reality in the country. The author has painted a picture of the life of American farmers of the 30s of the 20th century who are forced to leave their homes. They head off for California for better living conditions, but their expectations were not destined to come true. People had to go through many losses and trials, but along this path, they were able to come to a new level of consciousness, which was the opposite of the individualistic one.

Works Cited

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. 15th ed., Penguin Books, 2002.

Wagner-Martin, Linda. John Steinbeck: A Literary Life. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

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