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Review of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath'

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John Steinbeck, one of the most popular authors still known today, has written one of the most popular books ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ since 1939 when it was published. Selling about 150,000 annually, Steinbeck had left his mark on the world with his creative and skillful use of literary elements. His novel consists of the Joad family, the main focus for the idea of Dust Bowl farmers. As the book progresses, the author captures the family’s adventure as they make their way to California for work.

In the beginning part of the book, Steinbeck uses detailed imagery to describe the earth’s completion during the time of the Dust Bowl. From the small ruptures in the earth to the slightest heat wave descended from the sun, the description sets a tone on the landscape that the characters attempt to strive on. Steinbeck uses the quote “The air was thin and the sky more pale; and every day the earth paled” (Steinbeck, 1), as the introduction to one of the driest moments in history. He furthers his statement by detailing out the masks and handkerchiefs around their faces they used to keep dust from entering their lungs to signify the horrid living styles the victims of the Dust Bowl had to endure. The devil’s breath reeked havoc on the land and suffocated everything last living thing, leaving the earth nothing more than a sand box. Steinbeck creates this imagery to use at the motivation for his characters as they migrate to the left of the panhandle.

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As the book carries on, the author uses an emotional technique to appeal to his readers by using one of his main characters. Still closer in the beginning of the book, Tom Joad, the main character, has admitted to the crime that landed him in jail for four years, homicide. Once he is released, he finds himself hitching a ride from a truck driver and once his ride was over, stumbles along his old preacher, Jim Casy. After a long chat, Casy admits to partaking in sexual intercourse with young females after prayer meetings. Tom replies with “there ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue” (Steinbeck, 23). He goes on to explain that life is life no matter what you do. The style used in the chapter is to reveal the brutal honestly Tom possess. Steinbeck shares this information in a way to appeal to his readers that Tom is an upright man who is truthful even when it hurts. There is no “sin” and there isn’t any virtue but that is because he admits to his crime and believes strongly in his actions. Another emotional appeal to the audience is demonstrated towards the end of the book as well. Along with part of the theme, the dignity of wrath, Steinbeck displays a scene where his readers can sympathize with the characters’ moral decision. In the last chapter of the book, the Joad family has gone through some dramatic changes in their life that left them stranded with no home, a lifeless baby, and very little food. However, the author uses this situation to set up a scene where he can emphasize the importance of dignity and respect for others. On their way to find shelter, the family stumbles along a barn with a dying man and a small child in it. After the boy explains that his father has not had enough to eat and is to the point where solid foods cannot help, Ma addresses the situation and looks towards Rose of Sharon to be the answer. Due to her recent pregnancy, she is still producing milk which can help the dying man at this point in type. Although the man does refuses at first, he eventually takes hold and begins to nurse. Steinbeck writes, “you got to”, she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. “There!” she said. “There. Her hand moved behind his head and supported it. Her fingers moved gently in his hair. She looked up across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously' (Steinbeck, 445). This proves to the readers that the Joad family, despite losing almost everything, they have not lost their scene of dignity and respect for others. Her body language and the way Rose of Sharon approaches the situation without hesitation and in such a motherly way, also connects to the audience through emotions by understanding the value of human life. In this moment, she gave him milk and gave him life. This image also allowed for a moral conclusive ending to show that those who wrath for motivation while never losing putting their pride first, will always remain dignified.

Throughout the novel, the writer often shifts between different points of view for the purpose of describing certain events in more detail. By using a third person omniscient point of view, he is able to address certain situations more specifically based upon the given experience of his characters. The descriptions about the Dust Bowl time period throughout the novel help to split up Tom Joad’s point of view. The Dust Bowl intermissions allow for more of a historical aspect explaining the time period in more of a non-biased stand point. Joad’s point of view seems to put the family’s perspective on their life in a way that makes it easier to relate to. The opening quote for chapter 12, “Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66-the long concrete path across…across the desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys” (Steinbeck, 118), provides the viewers with a set up to the scene that will later impact the Joad family. Then by using Tom’s point of view, the readers will have a more personal view as to what is taking place. In that same chapter, Tom explains that the they have gotten a flat tire and they are addressing how far the drive will be if they continue in their current state. “Might get five hundred more miles. Let’s go till she blows' (Steinbeck 120). The relationship of the detailed set up from the beginning of the chapter to the situation the family is facing is connected. The audience has just realized how big and broad this road really is and now they are interpreting the predicament the Joads are in with their flat tire. Both points of views are significant because one provides solid background information and history, crucial to fully understanding what is going on at all times and keeping the readers’ minds in the time period in which the story is being told from. The second point of view aids its viewers to keep in mind the emotional aspect of family as well.

Throughout this bitter sweet, emotional and everlasting journey, the Joad family has learned and endured many events that were ultimate life changing. With the author’s help the ideas of love, unity, and perseverance have all shrined through with the use of rhetorical devices to help skillfully aid this imagery from his thoughts to his audience. It was point of view that guide the readers to make connections and draw conclusions from historical background information to personal feelings and emotion. It was the theme of dignity that brought together the family towards the end of the book and it was detailed imagery that intensified the quality of the novel as a whole.

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Review of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“Review of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Review of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Dec. 2023].
Review of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Dec 2]. Available from:
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