The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In The Grapes of Wrath, how is Uncle John similar to the one-eyed man?

Both Uncle John and the one-eyed man are emotionally stuck. Uncle John is wracked by guilt about the death his wife. Because of this, he does acts of penance, such as placing chewing gum under the pillows of kids, and then goes on a spree by getting drunk. This vicious cycle repeats and repeats. Uncle John is aware of this, but can't seem to break the cycle, lamenting that "I knowed they was gonna come a time when I got to get drunk." The one-eyed man is also emotionally stuck. He keeps on feeling sorrow for himself because of the way his boss mistreats him. But he has convinced himself there is nothing he can do about it because of his handicap. So he keeps on working at the same job. When Tom tries to rouse the one-eyed man from his self-pity, the man perks up for awhile. However, after Tom and Al leave, he "stretched out and cried in his bed."

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does the lack of work in California affect the migrants?

The migrants are drawn or pulled to California by handbills that advertise the plentiful work in the state. Large landowners in California want to attract huge numbers of workers so they can keep wages down. However, when the migrants arrive, they realize that there isn't nearly enough work and that the wages are low. As a result, migrants are constantly hungry, even though they are surround by fields bearing delicious fruits. After the land owner uses the migrants to harvest crops, they push them around to prevent them from forming any stable community. If migrants do form strong communities, they could join together and demand more rights. Because of this push-pull situation, the migrants become angry. Some of them plant secret gardens on land owned by big companies. When police evict them, conflict breaks out.

In Chapter 20 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck describe the mood of the Hooverville camp?

Steinbeck conveys a mood of eerie uneasiness in the Hooverville camp through diction and specific details. The author describes a "moldy carpet," a "strip of tattered canvas," a "kerosene can [serving as a] stove," and many other details that show the miserable conditions. An eerie uneasiness is also conveyed through the people. A bearded man seems dazed. When a young man named Floyd Knowles describes the unfair work conditions to Tom, Floyd begins "panting with anger, and his eyes blazed with hate." When Ma prepares a meal, hungry children gather around and stare at her cooking. She allows them to eat scraps of leftovers from the pot and soon "a mound of children smothered the pot from sight."Also, Steinbeck conveys an uneasy tension when the migrants listen to the contractor offer work. The men, though desperate for work, "looked quietly, suspiciously." The migrants have been abused and cheated so many times, they are cautious even in the face of possible work.

In Chapter 24 of The Grapes of Wrath, the large landowners and local townspeople focus on results. How does Steinbeck show this, and what are the results of this focus?

With the large landowners, Steinbeck shows that they are focused on the result of keeping wages down and prices up to gain more and more profits. All that matters is achieving these results, no matter how it affects the migrants. So they attract many more migrants than jobs available because the more workers there are, the less they have to pay. The townspeople focus on what they fear will result from the migrants' arrival, such as diseases they will bring with them. Also, townspeople fear the result that the migrants will take jobs away from them. However, the landowners and townspeople do not focus on what caused thousands of people to migrate to California. They ignore what caused the migrants to live in squalor and to be willing to take any work. These causes include unfair labor practices and the unbridled greed of the companies and banks. Because of their focus, the landowners and townspeople do not deal with the effect the causes have on the migrants. The unfair labor practices and greed cause widespread homelessness and unemployment. Because of this, migrants go hungry. They get pushed around like cattle. This abuse leads to a growing wrath within the breast of the migrants. As they searched for food, "the anger began to ferment."

In Chapter 22 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck convey the power of community through Ruthie's playing croquet?

Through the scene where Ruthie plays croquet, Steinbeck shows how the community can be used to counteract selfishness. A group of children are playing croquet under the supervision of an adult. Ruthie wants to play immediately, but the children tell her she can play the next game. Ruthie insists on playing right then. In response, all of the children step aside, including Winfield, and let her play alone. The children, therefore, unite into a community to oppose Ruthie. At first she tries to play by herself, but she soon gets self conscious as the children watch her. So the community of children is making Ruthie aware of her selfishness. When she does realize her selfish act, Ruthie can't deal with it and runs away. The good of the community triumphs against the selfishness of the individual.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does music help individuals to build community?

In Chapter 17, the author shows how music is used in makeshift camps to express and share the emotions and yearnings of the migrants. Through this sharing, the community is knitted together. As a person sang and played a guitar, the migrants sang with him, and "the group was welded to one thing, one unit." In Chapter 23, Steinbeck also emphasizes this community-bonding quality of music. The migrants form bands, and the people listen and spontaneously start to square dance. Individuals within the community also bond through music. Guitars are passed from father to son. When the son learns to play the instrument well, a special connection forms between father and son. Also, music leads to romance between two people. During a square dance, Steinbeck describes "the Texas boy an' that girl a-steppin' away into the dark."

In Chapter 24 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does the dance at the Weedpatch camp reflect the importance of community?

During the dance at the Weedpatch camp, the people come together for a social gathering. The dance shows how much individuals need community during hard times. However, Rose of Sharon is depressed that her husband has left her, so she doesn't want to go to the dance. Ma Joad, though, knows that it isn't good for the girl to cut herself off from other people, so she talks her daughter into attending the dance, where they will just "set there an' watch." Once they go, the music and dancing bring back memories, and "on the faces of the watchers the smiles were of old times." Also, during the dance, twenty men work together to isolate three troublemakers who have been sent to start a riot, thereby dramatically illustrating the power of community to combat evil. Afterward, Mr. Huston says to the troublemakers: "You're our own folks ... Don't knife your own folks. We're tryin' to get along ... You're jes' harmin' yourself." When individuals damage the community, they hurt themselves.

What is the significance of text structure in Chapter 25 of The Grapes of Wrath?

Chapter 25 is a poetic section that continues to support Steinbeck's agrarian philosophies by showing a contrast between the beginning and end of the chapter. The first half of the chapter describes a paradise of great beauty and abundance—spring arrives to the farms in California. The second half of the chapter punctures that beautiful vision with details of how the small farmers cannot pay people to harvest these crops. Small farmers cannot compete with the big farms, so they let the crops fall to the ground and rot. Since a profit cannot be made, they destroy their crops and kill their pigs, thereby preventing hungry people from taking the food. The structure of Chapter 25—starting the chapter with rejuvenation and new life and ending with decay and gloom--supports the contrast between the uses for land. Land is used to give life, but it is also used and manipulated for profit.

How is Jim Casy compared to Christ in chapter 26 of The Grapes of Wrath?

Jim Casy, the former preacher, is working to save people, not from their sins, but from being exploited. Steinbeck includes several details to indicate that he is a Christ figure. First, his initials are J.C., a reference to Jesus Christ. Second, he compares his time in jail to the time Jesus went to pray in the wilderness: "Here's me, been a'goin' into the wilderness like Jesus to try find out somepin." In the jailhouse, his wilderness experience, Casy got his calling to help oppressed workers. Then when thugs come looking for Casy because he's a leader of the strikers, Casy says, "You don' know what you're a-doin'." This echoes one of Jesus's last statements on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they do." Finally, like Jesus, Casy is killed because he is a threat to the status quo. He is sacrificed for the benefit of his people.

In Chapter 26 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck use Ma to interrelate the themes of community, kindness, and wrath?

Many elements threaten to break apart the Joad family. For example, Al wants to leave the family and get work as a mechanic. Also, after Tom kills the policeman, he fears that his family will get in trouble if he hides with them. So Tom wants to leave. However, Ma is intent on preventing these individuals from leaving her family community. She does this by using a combination of anger and kindness. When the men of the family fail to find work, she scolds them. After the men come back from a futile day of job searching, Ma claims, "you jus' eat, then you get wandering' away. Can't bear to talk it out." Then Ma says they have to talk it out. She urges them to stop meekly accepting their situation and work together to find a solution. Ma also uses a combination of kindness and anger to prevent Tom from leaving. She understands why he struck down a policeman. But she gets angry when Tom says he needs to leave the family. "But goin' away ain't gonna ease us. It's gonna bear us down."

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