The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck, 1939
Carefully researched fiction or hopelessly romantic
Highway 66 is the main migrant road…The people in flight streamed out on 66, sometimes in a single car,
sometimes a little caravan. All day they rolled slowly along the road, and at night they stopped near water. In
the day, ancient leaky radiators sent up columns of steam, loose connecting rods hammered and pounded… “‘F
we can only get to California where the oranges grow before this here ol’jub blows up. ‘F we on’y can…”
The long hot journey was too much for Grampa. He died and was buried by the side of the road. They put a
note in a fruit jar with the body:
This here is William James Joad, dyed of a stroke, old, old man. His folks buried him because they got no money
to pay for funerls. Nobody kilt him. Just a stroke and he dyed.
Granma Joad became increasingly ill as they approached California but they had to cross a desert at night to
get there – and they did not dare stop in case the truck broke down. Granma died just before they crossed the
state line into California.
Suddenly they saw the great valley below them…the vineyards, the orchards, the great flat valley, green and
beautiful…the grainfields golden in the morning, and the willow lines, the eucalyptus trees in rows…The peach
trees and the walnut groves, and the dark green patches of oranges…Ruthie and Winfield scrambled down
from the car, and they stood silent and awestruck…and Ruthie whispered: “it’s California”
Getting work was difficult because there were so many migrants desperate to earn money. The Californian
employers took advantage of this.
The car door opened and a man got out…The man said: “You men want work?”…One of the squatting men
spoke at last. “Sure we wanta work. Where’s the work?” Tulare county. Fruit’s been opening up. Need a lot of
The men asked him to give them a signed contract but the man hiring labour wouldn’t.
Floyd said:”‘Twice now I’ve fell for that. Maybe he needs a thousan’ men. He’ll get five thousan’ there, an’ he’ll
pay maybe fifteen cents an hour. An’ you poor bastards’ll have to take it ‘cause you’ll be hungry. ‘F he wants to
hire men, let him hire ‘em an’ write it out an’ say he’s gonna pay”
The contractor turned to the Chevrolet and called to his companion: “This fella. He’s talkin’ red, agitating
trouble…Ever seen ’im before”…
“Hmm, seems I have. Las’ week when that used car lot was busted into. Seems like I seen this fellahangin’
roun’…’Getin that car,” he said, and he unhooked the strap that covered the butt of his automatice.
Tom said: ‘You got nothin’ on him.’
The deputy swung around, ‘’F you’s like to go in too, you jus’ open your trap once more”…
The contractor turned back to the men. “You fellas don’t want to listen to these goddamn reds. Trouble-
makers – they’ll get you in trouble. Now I can use all of you in Tulare county.”
The Government Camp
The Joads moved from camp to camp looking for work, but had little luck. Eventually, they arrived at a
Ma demanded: “You got wash-tubs – running water?”
“Oh! Praise God,” said Ma…
The watchman looked up…”the camp site costs a dollar a week, but you can work it out, carry garbage,
keeping the camp clean – stuff like that…there’s five sanitary units. Each one elects a Central Committee man.
Now that committee makes the laws. What they say goes”…
[Tom] “You mean to say that fellas that runs the camp is jus’ fellas – campin’ here?”
“Sure, and it works… Then there’s the ladies. They keep care of kids an’ look after the sanitary units. If your ma
isn’t working…and a nurse comes out an’ teaches ‘em…”
[Tom] “Well for Christ’s sake! Why ain’t they more places like this”
Starvation Amidst plenty
The works of the roots of vine, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest,
bitterest thing of all. Car-loads of oranges dumped on the ground…and men with hoses squirt kerosene on
the oranges …A million people hungry, needing the fruit – and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountain…
[And the men] dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from
fishing them out, slaughter the pigs and bury them…
There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation…children dying of pellagra must die because a profit
cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates – died of malnutrition – because
the food must be forced to rot…and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the
people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy.
What happened to the Joads
The Joads go through hard times finding little help and much intolerance and cruelty, moving from place to
place in search of work. The end of the book sees them no better off – caught in a flood, the baby of Rose of
Sharon stillborn – but they still have hope and faith in themselves to get through.