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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Chapter 27 of The Grapes of Wrath, how does the author's style indicate the working conditions of the cotton pickers?

Chapter 27 is written as a chorus of voices, and the pickers' lines reveal that conditions are stacked against them. At the beginning, the cotton pickers learn that they have to pay for their bags out of their earnings, and they say that's fair. By the end, though, they have learned it's impossible to do; one of the pickers says, "I knowed a fella never did git his bag paid out." Another thing that reveals the rigged situation is "the old cars piling in, drawn by the handbills." The farmers keep hiring more workers to keep their profits high and pickers' wages low. The pickers say, "If they was on'y fifty of us, we could stay awhile, but they's five hunderd." And later, "A thousan' men are on their way. ... We'll be fightin' for a row tomorra." A third thing that demonstrates the unfair situation is that the pickers have to worry about rigged scales, and they have to keep their own records so they don't get cheated.

How is Casy's influence on Tom revealed in Chapter 28 of The Grapes of Wrath?

While hiding in the willows, Tom remembers the things Casy said. Earlier, Tom found Casy's ideas annoying, but now he has come to believe Casy was right. He remembers that Casy quoted the preacher, saying that "two get a better reward for their work." Tom has decided it's not good for him to go it alone, and he's also realized that it's not right for the poor to be treated like pigs while the rich have a million acres of land. Even though he tells Ma that he doesn't have it all sorted out yet, it becomes clear that he means to take up Casy's unfinished work. He believes what Casy said—that "fella ain't got a soul of his own, but on'y a piece of a big one"—and so people have to fight for one another.

How are men and women contrasted in Chapter 28 of The Grapes of Wrath?

The differences between men and women can be seen in Pa and Ma Joad. At the beginning of the book, men are seen as the sources of strength in the family. They are the ones from whom women and children draw security and reassurance. Pa, like other men, was the decision maker. By Chapter 28, though, Pa has declined, the family's trouble apparently too much for him. Pa says, "I ain't no good ... spen' all my time a'thinkin' how it use' ta be." He isn't adaptable. At the same time, he notices that Ma keeps moving ahead: "Woman sayin' we'll do this here, an' we'll go there. An' I don' even care." Ma has two explanations for the differences. First, she attributes the different responses to a difference in men's and women's natures: "Woman got all her life in her arms. Man got it all in his head." (Of course, Ma's ability to think of this explanation undercuts her argument.) Second, she explains that life is concrete for women but abstract for men. She says that men live in jerks, from event to event. In contrast, for women life is "all one flow ... little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river goes right on." Women are able to adapt to change better because they see life as a process.

In Chapter 29 of The Grapes of Wrath, how do the events faced by the migrants bring forth the grapes of wrath?

Chapter 29 recounts events that happen during the winter. Heavy rains come, and a three-month period of no work sets in: "The terror came over them, and their faces were grey with terror." The men try to get help for their families, but no matter where they turn, whether to the government or the towns or the doctors, no one will do anything for the migrants. The men become the "sodden men," "hungry men," and "frantic men." Gradually, though, there is an important change, as "the fear went from their faces, and anger took its place." The grapes of wrath continue to grow within them, and the women feel relief because "the break could never come as long as fear could turn to wrath." Fearful men are defeated; wrathful men are ready and willing to fight and face challenges. It is this shift from impotent fear to potentially powerful wrath that encourages the women.

In The Grapes of Wrath, why is Casy the first to understand that the loss of family members leads to an understanding of larger community?

The formation of a larger community starts through the severe hardships that the Joads and other migrant families face. Casy was never a part of a big family. He wonders, "What they is for a fella so lonely?" Joining together with other people is how he creates his family. Also, Casy is a person who has a wider vision than do most people depicted in the novel. As a result, he believes that all people are part of one great soul in a global community. Casy says, "'It's all men an' all women we love; ... that's the Holy Sperit ... the whole shebang. " So when family members break apart, he realizes that they can then unite in a larger community.

Compare and contrast Rose of Sharon's baby in The Grapes of Wrath with Moses as a baby in the Bible.

In both cases, a child is born to an oppressed group of people, the child is put into a container and sent down a river or stream, and it is hoped that this act will eventually lead to deliverance for the oppressed group. However, the mechanism of that deliverance is different. In the Bible, baby Moses lives. Pharaoh's daughter adopts him and he becomes a prophet who eventually leads his people out of slavery. It is a triumphant story. In contrast, in The Grapes of Wrath, Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn. Uncle John sets it in the stream to carry a message of despair and suffering to the people in the town so they will begin to understand the terrible hardships the migrants are enduring and thus be moved to help them from compassion.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck show the pros and cons of anger?

Steinbeck shows anger in a negative way, mainly through the angry outbursts of Tom Joad, which leads to him killing two men. Steinbeck, though, understands the reason for this violent action. Tom was just reacting to the violence of others. In Chapter 4, he explains to Casy, "I'd do what I done—again. ... I killed a guy in a fight." For Steinbeck, this action is negative because it is seen as a waste. When Tom kills the policeman near the Hooper ranch, the police intensify their search for him, thereby increasing the danger for Tom's family and other migrants. Also, getting arrested serves to isolate a person from other people. In Chapter 28, Tom says, "Little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest." However, anger can be positive if it is used to unite the people and fight against oppression. In Chapter 21, Steinbeck states that hostility changes the migrants and "welded them, united them." Because of the oppression they face, a righteous anger builds within the souls of the migrants. This anger produces the grapes of wrath, which are "growing heavy for the vintage." The word "vintage" is often used for potent, good wine.

In The Grapes of Wrath, what type of situations make Tom angry?

Tom Joad often gets angry with the misuse of power by authority figures. In Chapter 20, when Floyd explains how the landowners use unfair labor practices, Tom angrily replies, "Well, s'pose them people got together an' says, 'let em rot.'" Later in the chapter, when the Joads are forced to leave Hooverville because of a skirmish with the police, Tom says, "They comes a time when a men gets mad." Soon after that, a mob of vigilantes confronts Tom and his family. He is tempted to grab a jack handle and lash out with anger. Ma catches his arm, stopping him. In Chapter 26, Tom does lash out with anger by killing the policeman who killed Casy.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck use situational irony?

Steinbeck uses situational irony, the contrast between expected outcomes and actual events, mainly by contrasting official law enforcement with the law used by the migrants to govern themselves. In the makeshift camps and the Weedpatch camp, Steinbeck shows that migrants are capable of making their own effective rules and laws. Both of these camps are run efficiently. If trouble breaks out, the migrants handle it well. For example, Tom asks a watchman at the Weedpath how they handle a person who gets out of line. The watchmen says that they warn him and then "really warn him." The third time, they kick him out of the camp. Later, Casy asks Tom if there were many troublemakers at the Weedpatch camp. Tom replies, "We was there a month, an' on'y one." Casy answers, "Ya see? ... Cops cause more trouble than they stop." In contrast, the official law enforcement causes problems instead of maintaining the peace. In fact, at the Weedpath camp, the police try to start a riot. This contrast is ironic because it is surprising. The police are supposed to keep the peace, and the migrants, left to their own devices, are supposed to be unruly. But the opposite is true.

In The Grapes of Wrath, what are the advantages and disadvantages of spending time in solitude?

The advantage of solitude is that a person gets to spend time alone with his or her thoughts. Because of this, a person can formulate good ideas. Casy compares his time in prison to going out into the wilderness. At prison, he talked to inmates but then had the time to come up with ideas: "An' I begin to see, then. It's need that makes all the trouble." When Tom hides from the law at the boxcar camp, he spends a lot of time alone: "I been all day an' all night ... alone. Guess who I been thinking about? Casy!" Because of this solitude, Tom comes to understand Casy's ideas. However, the disadvantage of solitude is that it separates a person from the community of humanity. If people are all part of one soul, then a person should not be separated from this soul for long. It is through people joining together in community that real progress can be made. Tom says that two are better than one, but "woe to him that is alone ... for he hath not another to help him up." He then sees the potential of people working together: "All work together for our own thing—all farm our own lan'."

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