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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Chapter 16 of The Grapes of Wrath, how is the response of the migrants to the raggedy man similar to the earlier symbol of the land turtle?

The raggedy man describes to the migrants, including Pa, Tom, and Casy, the horrors of life in California for migrant workers. The raggedy man had been in California for a year. The contractors intentionally attract too many workers so they can keep wages low. As the man explains, "The more fellas he can get, an' the hungrier, less he's gonna pay." Then the raggedy man describes how his children died of starvation. But despite this depiction of the hardships that face migrants, the Joads and others continue on to California. They realize that the raggedy man was probably telling the truth. Casy says, "He's telling' the truth, awright. The truth for him." Tom wonders if it will be the truth for himself and his family. Casy replies, "I don' know." The migrants have a narrow vision. The handbills claim there is plenty of work in California; the raggedy man says there isn't. Which is true? Their limited vision makes them doubt. They know they need work and there isn't any work in Oklahoma. They plod ahead, thinking only of the next step, moving almost instinctively. In this they are like the land turtle earlier in the book, which is deliberately hit by a truck driver and knocked off the road but which struggles to right itself and continues on. The Joads' determination to persevere also suggests they have a resilience, a toughness that protects them like the shell protects the turtle.

What does the ending of Chapter 16 of The Grapes of Wrath reveal about Tom Joad's character?

Tom intentionally angers the camp proprietor, who calls him a troublemaker. Tom replies by saying, "I'm bolshevisky." By doing this, Tom shows that he enjoys being viewed as a rebel or troublemaker by a person who takes advantage of migrants. He realizes that the proprietor is charging as much as he can for staying at the camp, even though the people who pay him are mostly very poor. The proprietor claims that some of these migrants like the raggedy man are troublemakers. Tom realizes that the proprietor is being selfish and is ethically in the wrong. As a result, he willingly plays the role of the rebel who goads the proprietor. When Tom leaves the camp, "he picked up a clod and threw it at the light," flustering the proprietor even more. So Tom is willing to be a rebel when faced with authority figures who act unfairly.

What makes Rose of Sharon in The Grapes of Wrath a dynamic character, capable of change?

Rose of Sharon is a dynamic character because she experiences a major change. Throughout most of the novel, Rose of Sharon is an immature young woman who has romantic notions about marriage. Her husband, Connie, feeds these notions. Rose of Sharon describes to Ma what Connie has been telling her, relating their plan to live in town and describing an idyllic life in which he studies at night before they go to the movies. When Connie abandons her, she continually whines and doesn't want to do much, saying, "I don't feel like doing' nothin' 'thout Connie." However, near the end of the novel, Rose of Sharon changes. In the boxcar camp, she offers to help the family by picking cotton. Ma tells her she shouldn't because she's too far along with her pregnancy. Rose of Sharon replies, "No, I ain't. An' I'm a-goin." At the end of the novel, Rose of Sharon shows maturity when she realizes she needs to breastfeed the starving man. Rose of Sharon, therefore, matures, becoming a more considerate, less selfish person.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does religious fanaticism affect the migrants?

Religious fanaticism is used to create fear and division among the migrants. The religious fanatic, Lisbeth Sandry, scares Rose of Sharon, making her believe that her sin could cause her to have a miscarriage. This fear builds in her, until it bursts out against Tom. When Rose of Sharon realizes that Tom killed a man, she yells at him, saying that his sin will harm her baby. "What chance that baby got to get bore right?" she says. The fear planted by the religious fanatic threatens to divide the Joad family. Also, religious fanatics cause dissension in the Weedpatch camp concerning the dance. During the dance, these fanatics "sat and watched, their faces hard and contemptuous." In addition, the fanatics disapprove of "the poor ... tryin' to be rich." So they attempt to control the migrants by saying they should remain in their place and stay poor.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does meekness support the status quo?

When the tenant farmers and migrants meekly accept their situation, they become pawns in the hands of the landowners and the migrants. When the landowners force tenant farmers off the land in Oklahoma, the farmers accept this dictate. The migrants meekly accept the information on the handbills advertising for workers in California, and, as a result, thousands of them head there. In addition, migrants allow themselves to be exploited by the landowners in California, who use them for their own selfish purposes. By meekly accepting these unfair situations, the migrants support the established power structure. The narrator uses figurative language to underscore this idea. He compares the "frantic people" filling California's roads to "ants," a comparison that makes them seem mindless and lacking in volition, following instinct to maintain the social order.

In The Grapes of Wrath, what do the short, interspersed intercalary chapters contribute to the story?

The short, interspersed, intercalary chapters provide an overview of the migration of thousands of people to California and the work situation these people face in California. As part of this overview, Steinbeck shows what caused the Dust Bowl, how the system works that pushes tenant farmers off their land, how people take advantage of the migrants, and how hardships can knit a community together. In addition, the overview chapters analyze the dynamics of how the migrants are exploited in California. Each overview chapter is then followed by a longer chapter that shows how the subject of the overview applies specifically to the Joads. Also, the overview chapters add a poetic sensibility to the novel. Instead of just dryly describing the above mentioned topics, Steinbeck uses poetic language to make them compelling for the reader. Such poetic language can be seen in phrases such as "twisting darts and parachutes for the wind, little spears and balls of tiny thorns." Alternating overview chapters with chapters about the Joads makes the novel's structure more complex and adds layers of meaning to the story.

In The Grapes of Wrath, what is the main motivation for a person to show kindness to another person?

A person is primarily motivated to show kindness to another person because he or she comes in close contact with the other person and empathizes with this person's hardships. Members of the Joad family often show kindness and consideration for other members because they are constantly in contact with them and can share their hardships. For this reason, Ma consoles Rose of Sharon, Al makes sure the truck runs well, and the family allows Casy to travel with them. The same principle applies to other characters. The waitress at the restaurant saw the two boys gazing at the candy sticks. The boys "raised their eyes to her face and they stopped breathing; their mouths were partly opened." She could empathize with them and, as a result, let them have candy for a very low price. Sairy Wilson recognizes that the Joads need help to bury Granma and doesn't hesitate to assist. "We're proud to help. ... People needs—to help," she says. After the Joads listen to the troubles that the Wilson have dealt with, they offer to fix the Wilson's car. The Joads obviously empathize with these troubles and want to help out.

Throughout The Grapes of Wrath, how does Steinbeck depict the migrants with respect?

Steinbeck conveys the novel from the migrant's viewpoint. Because of this, the reader can identify with the migrant's problems. The migrants, therefore, are not shown as inferiors but instead as equals to the reader. Also, the migrants are not stereotyped. Instead, Steinbeck depicts them as distinct human beings, each with their own personality and problems. Tom Joad is proud, direct, and resourceful. Ma Joad is strong, gentle, and committed to the family. Noah is quiet and mysterious. Like all people, some migrants are nicer than others. Some, like Connie, who abandons Rose of Sharon, commit selfish acts. Others, like Casy leading the strike, can act nobly. However, they are all worthy of respect.

In The Grapes of Wrath, how does mechanization affect tenant farmers?

Mechanization allows the banks and landowners to distance themselves from the land and so, too, the tenant farmers who work the land. As a result, the banks and the people who worked for them "could not see the land as it was." This lack of connection allows the banks and their workers to deal cruelly with the tenant farmers. In Chapter 5, the tractor driver who plows over tenant houses looks like a robot and acts like one toward the farmers. A farmer talks to a tractor driver about the harm he is doing to many tenant farmers. In reply, the driver says, "I'm going through the dooryard after dinner. ... Had to keep the line straight." Also, mechanization often enables people to take advantage of the tenant farmers. For example, some of these farmers do not know much about motor vehicles. The car salesmen realize this and readily take advantage of the situation. Referring to a tenant farmer, a salesman says, "Don't know his ass from a hole in the ground. Try him on that Apperson." Mechanization, therefore, can be seen in a literal sense through the use of machine and in a symbolic sense through people and institutions acting like machines.

In Chapter 30 of The Grapes of Wrath, hardships persist for the Joad family. Why will they most likely persevere?

In Chapter 30, the Joad family is hit with a flood, a stillborn infant, and a family member leaving. However, the Joads will probably persevere for several reasons. Ma Joad is a resilient, strong leader of the family, who holds them together. Common people like the Joads readily help each other during hard times. Also, common people are in touch with their own power to give life and are willing to share it. Because of this, Rose of Sharon breastfeeds the starving man. In addition, Tom Joad has realized that common people need to join together to fight oppression. People like Tom could eventually help the Joads and other migrant families obtain a better way of life by carrying on the work he is inspired by Casy's ideas to undertake.

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