The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, is a required book to read for Sophomores and I recently just finished this book. A story on what the migrants from the Great Plains faced when they traveled to California to escape the Dust Bowl and search for a better life during the Great Depression, Steinbeck portrays the views and hardships they endured through the journey of one family, the Joads.
First of all, some background information and facts. The entire book is based on biblical references to the Old Testament with an interesting structure: the first 10 chapters are about the Joads’ conditions in Oklahoma; the next 10 chapters are about being on the road to California; and the last 10 chapters focus on their new lives. The Joad family consisted of 12 members altogether and other tag-alongs, such as Jim Casy (J.C.), a preacher. They symbolize the 12 disciples Jesus Christ (J.C.) appointed to spread religious knowledge. The Joads travel through the desert to their “Golden Land” just like how Moses brings Egyptian slaves across the desert to a promised land. More biblical references occur throughout the book; watch out for Uncle John’s reaction to Rose of Sharon’s baby and Casy’s last speech. The camps the migrants lived in on their way to California were called Hoovervilles, intended to criticize the mismanagement of Herbert Hoover (the U.S. President during that time) for bringing the nation into chaos.
A complex book with many themes, it is best to watch out for certain main ideas you are bound to discuss in English classes throughout the book. The role of Ma as the leader of the family instead of Pa provides an rare example of the power of women during that time period. Ma’s relationship with Tom Joad could be debated as a unique bond, and possibly even a one-sided connection. Unity is of extreme importance; union of migrants proved to be the local Californians’ biggest fear. The title itself, The Grapes of Wrath, hints at the anger in men, which serves as the attitude to maintain hope in times of depression. More key points could be the maturity of Rose of Sharon, life and death, and the difference between the Hoovervilles and the roadside camps.
Though a long book, Steinbeck makes impressive symbolic comparisons, causing some readers to be deeply interested, some to be angered at his biased opinions, and some to sympathize with the migrants.