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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 12 of The Grapes of Wrath, what do the mechanical difficulties that migrants face on Highway 66 foreshadow?

Highway "66 is the mother road, the road of flight." This chapter provides a general insight about migrant travel along this highway. Like other migrant families, the Joads are using a rundown vehicle that is overloaded with supplies and passengers. The migrants face many mechanical difficulties with their vehicles, such as blown tires, faulty motors, and overheated radiators. One migrant states, "F' we can on'y get to California ... before this here ol' jug blows up." These mechanical problems foreshadow the Joads' voyage to California and the mechanical troubles that the family will soon face on their long journey along Highway 66, such as the breakdown of the Wilsons' car and the flat tire on the Joads' vehicle. The migrant families are also desperate to get to California intact, worried that their families might disintegrate, as happens to the Joads with the deaths of Grampa, Granma, and Jim Casy and the departures of Noah, Connie, and Tom.

In Chapter 13 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does the Joads' friendship with the Wilsons support major themes of the novel?

The Joads' friendship toward the Wilsons supports the themes of community and kindness. Grampa's death is the Joad family's first loss. However, after the Joads befriend the Wilsons, there is a shift in focus from the importance of family to the importance of the larger community. Through this relationship, readers see how community is forged through kindness. When Tom Joad stops by the road, he politely asks Ivy Wilson if his family can make camp there. It is not necessary for Tom to ask permission; he is just being polite. Ivy recognizes the courtesy, leading to friendly relations between the two families and the formation of community. Later, the Wilsons help to bury Grampa, further bonding the two families. Then the Joads offer to fix the Wilson car in return for using the car to carry some of the Joads' belongings. Like other migrant families, the Joads are using a rundown vehicle, which is overloaded with supplies and passengers, so this possibility can help them. The two families will travel together to California. As Tom says, "We'd keep together on the road an' it'd be good for ever'body." In this way, kindness has led the development of community.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how is the Gila monster described in Chapter 13 comparable the Bank monster?

The gas station attendant in Paden, Oklahoma, tells the Joads and Casy about the Gila monster, a poisonous reptile that is difficult to kill. Both the Gila monster and Bank monster represent business systems that are dominated by greed. Because of the this greed, many people are losing their jobs. The major difference is that the symbol of the Gila monster applies to a broader range. When a gas station attendant admits that he'll soon be unemployed, Casy replies, "It's everybody. ... Somepin worse'n the devil got hold a the country." The Gila monster applies to large businesses in general across the United States. In contrast, the Bank monster is used to represent how the banks specifically exploit tenant farmers.

In Chapter 13 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck foreshadow Rose of Sharon's stillborn baby?

Rose of Sharon worries that the trauma of Grampa's death might have a bad affect on the baby she's carrying. Both Ma and Sairy Wilson try to assure Rose of Sharon that her sorrow for Grampa's death will not harm the baby. However, directly after this scene, the Joad men dig a grave. Then Uncle John and other men carry "the long, pinned bundle between them" to the grave. This scene relates to Rose of Sharon's stillborn baby near the end of the novel. Soon after this birth, the dead infant, in an apple box covered with a sack, is supposed to be buried by Uncle John. Instead, he settles "the apple box under his other arm" and carries it to some willows by a stream, where he sets it in the water to be washed into town. Therefore, the death and burial of Grampa foreshadows Rose of Sharon's stillborn infant.

In Chapter 14 of The Grapes of Wrath, why does Steinbeck warn the reader to "fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live"?

In Chapter 14, Steinbeck explains that humans are constantly striving to achieve a concept and make it a real. Such progress involves taking a step forward and half a step back. During this process, humans have to fight against resistance to progress or oppression. For example, political revolutions have often been waged to achieve freedom and liberty. Workers go on strike to achieve better working conditions. "Every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken," Steinbeck writes. However, if the bombers or the strikers stop, then something must be preventing them. Either they have lost the will to fight for an idea, which means humans will stop progressing, or they are being suppressed to such a degree that they are unable to drop bombs or go on strikes. Such a situation might happen with a totalitarian government.

What biblical allusions does John Steinbeck include in The Grapes of Wrath, and how does he use them?

Steinbeck includes allusions to the Bible throughout The Grapes of Wrath, using them to further build sympathy for the migrants and their plight in a readership that would readily recognize these allusions. Some allusions are found in the names. The family name of Joad recalls the Old Testament figure of Job, who suffers, as the Joads do, myriad trials that test his faith. The Joads, too, keep their faith, but theirs is less a faith in God than in their own powers; while Jesus's name is often invoked, it is usually as an expression rather than a statement of belief. Tom has faith that he can act to help the migrants; Ma has faith that she can hold the family together. Rose of Sharon is another name that contains a biblical allusion; in the Bible, Jesus calls himself "a rose of Sharon." While Rose of Sharon is hardly admirable through much of the novel, at the close she gives life-giving milk to the starving man, as Jesus gives his blood to save humankind. Another parallel to Jesus is Jim Casy, whose initials evoke Jesus Christ. Casy takes the blame for Tom's assault on the deputy and ultimately dies in an act of injustice, as Jesus takes on humanity's sins and dies unjustly executed. Casy is also the spiritual voice of the book; it is his teaching and his example that Tom follows. The overall action of the novel is a biblical allusion as well. The Joads' trip west is like the Exodus of the Hebrews; the Joads leave Oklahoma, a land where they have no rights and suffer as slaves to the Bank monster, in the hopes of reaching the promised land of California. This is analogous to how the Hebrews sought Canaan, the "land of milk and honey." The dramatic irony is that when the Joads arrive in the "promised land," they are unwelcome and treated effectively as slaves by the food growers and their contractors. Thus, Tom sadly tells Casy, "This ain't no lan' of milk an' honey."

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

Early in the novel, Ma Joad is the center and anchor of the Joad family, as expressed in the statement, "If she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall." Pa Joad starts out being a leader of the family, along with Uncle John. However, when the family threatens to break apart in Chapter 16, Ma emerges as the family leader. She grabs a jack handle and threatens to use force to keep the family together. The narrator comments, "She was the power. She had taken control." As the story develops, Ma continues continues to exert her leadership authority. After the family reaches California, she stands up to a policeman and fools an state inspection official about Granma's death. Later, Ma takes on a traditional male role when she offers to talk to Al about marrying Aggie. Pa remarks, "Funny! Woman takin' over the fambly." At the end of the novel, Ma orders the evacuation of the boxcar. Pa reluctantly allows Ma to take command. By the novel's end, he has become an insecure man who is constantly second-guessing himself. In Chapter 30, Pa insists on the building of an embankment to prevent a stream from overflowing. The bank ends up breaking. As a result, Pa constantly questions if he did the right thing.

In Chapter 16 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck reflect the emerging leadership skills of Tom Joad?

Tom takes charge of repairing the car. He removes the broken bearing and asks the one-eyed man about searching the wrecking yard for a replacement part. Tom then convinces the one-eyed man to sell the part for cheap and uses his ingenuity to make the part work effectively. Also, during this time, he berates the one-eyed man about feeling sorry for himself. Tom then offers the man good advice, telling him to cover up his empty eye socket and "buy yaself some white pants." After this, he gives good advice to his brother Al, telling him, "Don' keep ya guard up when nobody ain't sparrin' with ya." All these actions and words show Tom taking an increasing leadership role.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how are migrant makeshift camps similar to the Weedpatch camp?

Both the makeshift camps and the Weedpatch camp are organized and run by the migrants themselves. For example, in the makeshift camps, migrants decide what rights to uphold, such as "the right of the hungry to be fed," and what rights to abolish, such as "the right to intrude upon privacy." The makeshift camps make their own unofficial laws and punishments, and so does the Weedpatch camp. Indeed, the Weedpatch camp has various committees consisting of camp members that make rules. Both the makeshift camps and Weedpatch camp are run efficiently. With the makeshift camps, "a family acting in the rules [know] it [is] safe in the rules." With the Weedpatch camp, Tom notices that "there [is] no litter about the tents" and that "the street [has] been swept." When some men try to make trouble at a dance, the entertainment committee handles the situation efficiently. Also, official law enforcement is not involved with either the makeshift camps or the Weedpatch camp. In fact, with the Weedpatch camp, the police threaten to cause problems by attempting to start a riot.

In The Grapes of Wrath, why does the Joad family deteriorate after the Joads leave Oklahoma?

The Joad family is removed from Oklahoma and, because of this displacement, the family deals with various strains that pull it apart. The travel to California is physically and emotionally difficult, thereby resulting in the deaths of Grampa and Granma. Family members have doubts and fears about the future, which causes Noah to stay by the river where he thinks he'll be secure. He comments, "Fella can't starve beside a nice river." California is a rude awakening for the Joads, causing Connie to abandon Rose of Sharon. He says, "If I'd of knowed it would be like this I wouldn' of came." The Joads receive poor pay, which makes Al want to break away from the family and get a job as a mechanic. Eventually, he does leave when he becomes engaged to Aggie. The Joads come into conflict with people who impose unfair conditions, including abusive police. As a result, Tom and Casy fight a policeman and Casy takes the rap and gets arrested. Later, Tom kills a policeman, eventually forcing him to leave the family. In a larger sense, their act of leaving their home began the deterioration; in departing from their land, they left a part of themselves behind because they, like all the Oklahoma farmers, were deeply connected to the land.

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