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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How does the erosion described in Chapter 1 of The Grapes of Wrath relate to the Bank monster described in Chapter 5?

Erosion creates conditions that yield poor crops. Because of failed crops, tenant farmers are not producing enough of a profit to satisfy the Bank monster. This monster can survive only if it devours more and more profits: "When the monster stops growing it dies." Also, because of the erosion, the land will not yield crops for much longer. The Bank monster wants to make sure it gets as much profit as possible from the land before it loses all of its fertility. As a result, the Bank monster pushes tenant farmers from the land and, in their place, plants huge fields of cotton. It is a race against time: "We've got to take cotton quick before the land dies."

In Chapter 2 of The Grapes of Wrath, how is the truck driver similar to the tractor driver in Chapter 5?

Both the truck driver and the tractor driver work are Company men. The name Oklahoma City Transport Company is printed in large letters on the side of the truck. The Bank monster built the tractor and "the monster ... sent the tractor out." Also, the truck driver and tractor driver are both focused on taking care of their own needs, with little concern for people outside of their immediate families. The truck driver states, "Study a few easy lessons at home. ... Then I'll tell other guys to drive trucks." When a tenant farmer emphasizes to the tractor driver that his job is harming many other people, the tractor driver replies, "Can't think of that. Got to think of my own kids. Three dollars a day."

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does the symbol of the land turtle described in Chapter 3 relate to Ma Joad's attitude toward life?

The symbol of the land turtle represents a narrow view of the world, which involves a person focusing on what lies ahead as he or she plods along on a determined path. Steinbeck states that the land turtle's "fierce, humorous eyes ... stared straight ahead." Ma Joad has taken the attitude of just focusing on the troubles of each day and continuing on, step by step. In Chapter 28, she comments, "Jus' try to live the day, jus' the day." This focus serves as a shell, like the turtle's shell, protecting her and her loved ones from discouragement and hardships as they move ahead on their path.

As described in Chapter 4 of The Grapes of Wrath, what are the similarities and differences between Tom Joad and Jim Casy?

Tom Joad and Jim Casy are both social outsiders. Tom has just been released from prison. Even though he was convicted for killing a man, Tom doesn't think this action was wrong, saying, "I'd do what I done—again." Tom is a man who doesn't always play by society's rules. Jim Casy quit preaching because he felt he was being hypocritical; when Casy and a woman were filled with the Holy Spirit, he would have sex with the woman. Also, Casy thinks that perhaps each person is part of one big soul. Tom replies, "You can't hold no church with idears like that." Thus, Casy is also an outsider who has different ideas from those of mainstream society. However, Casy likes to think about why things are the way they are. In contrast, Tom doesn't like to think about things much. When Casy broods about not having anything to preach about, Tom replies, "What the hell you want to lead 'em someplace for? Jus' lead 'em."

In Chapter 6 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck show the effects of the Bank monster on the Joad family?

Steinbeck shows the affect of the Bank monster on the Joad family by describing details about the vacated Joad home as seen through the eyes of Tom Joad. The reader sees this effect from the viewpoint of someone who is not familiar with how the Bank has dealt with tenant farmers, as Tom has been in prison for years. The author describes cotton growing in the doorway and "the ragged willow beside the dry horse trough." Tom remarks, "Hell musta popped here." From an outsider's perspective, the house looks ravaged by evil. Also, the author emphasizes how the Bank's actions affect people. As he looks over the remains of his former house, Tom seems stunned and lost. He comments, "Somepin's wrong. ... I can't put my finger on her."

In Chapter 6 of The Grapes of Wrath, what causes a shift in Muley Graves's demeanor?

Muley Graves is a tenant farmer who decides to stay on his land, even when the large landowners try to force him off it. The reason for this is that Muley has a strong bond with the land. His father died on this land, and he can "put [his] han' right on the groun' where that blood is still." Also, his son was born on a house on this land. The land is part of who Muley is as a person. Leaving the land would be like cutting off a part of himself. Miley states, "They jus' chopped folks in two for their margin of profit." So Muley becomes eccentric—an "ol' graveyard ghos'" haunting abandoned houses and fields.

In Chapter 7 of The Grapes of Wrath, why are the car salesmen able to take advantage of the tenant farmers?

The car salesmen are in a position of advantage over the tenant farmers because the farmers feel they must buy cars to travel to California in search for work. The car salesmen realize that the farmers are desperate. Because of this, they can cheat the farmers, selling them cars for more than they are worth and buying items from the farmer for less than they are worth. The farmers realize they are being cheated but feel they have little choice.

How do the roles of Ma and Pa differ in the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath?

Ma Joad is the center, or spiritual core, of the Joad family. She sets the emotional tone for the family. When an event happens, family members look to her to see how they should respond. Because of this, she serves as a unifying and stabilizing force. In contrast, Pa is the breadwinner of the family. He, along with Uncle John, are the leaders who make the important decisions. When the family members meet to talk about the upcoming trip, Pa and Uncle John form the nucleus, with Grampa as an honorary member. Pa guides the discussion, allowing other family members to have input.

In Chapter 9 of The Grapes of Wrath, what personal qualities do the tenant farmers lose when they are stripped of their possessions?

The tenant farmers lose their dignity. They feel connected not only to their belongings, but also to the land that they live on. The farmers state that those who buy their possessions are, by cheating them, also getting the farmers' bitterness. This bitterness will eventually bring ruin to the buyers' families. The tragedy is not just the farmers' problem, though. The farmers could have saved the buyers if they had been allowed to stay on the land and farm. The farmers and the buyers, therefore, are interconnected. What affects one also affects the other. This interconnectedness relates to the idea of each human being part of one big soul. According to this idea, the spirits of all people are interconnected.

Why would landowners use a farming method that is harmful to the land, as described in Chapter 11 of The Grapes of Wrath?

The method of farming used by large landowners would most likely harm the land. This approach involves having people who don't live on the land use tractors to farm it and stresses objective scientific analysis. However, the approach of these landowners does not involve forming a close relationship with the land. Instead, a person drives a tractor on land "he does not know and love [and] understands only the chemistry. ... He is contemptuous of the land." In contrast, the tenant farmers have a vital, close relationship with the land. Because the landowner system does not involve a caring, nurturing relationship with the land, this system would be more likely to exploit the land and harm it.

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