The Grapes of Wrath Book summary

John Steinbeck



“The Grapes of Wrath,” written by John Steinbeck, is set in Depression-era 1930’s, in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl. Farmers are being pushed out of their land, and having few choices, hundreds of thousands of them and their families are headed towards California, hoping to find work. They believe that California will be a paradise of bountiful jobs and comfortable living.  


Plot Summary

This book follows the trials and tribulations of the Joad family, as they make the journey from Oklahoma to California. Forced to abandon the farm that they’ve known as home for generations, they struggle with financial difficulties, the loss of both grandparents, and fierce prejudice from the westerners who work to prevent their move.  

It begins with the protagonist, Tom Joad, as he returns home from a stint in prison. His family is in the process of preparing for the move to California. Within a few days, the entire clan, along with a family friend and one dog, pile into, and onto, a conversion truck, and head west.  

Over the course of the next few days, they meet and befriend other travelers. They learn that the job situation in California is not as rosy as promised, and they discover that emigrants like them are met with great resistance by law enforcement and by westerners who see them as parasites.  

Along the way, both grandparents are lost to death. Other members of their party simply wander away, overwhelmed by the prospects ahead, and discouraged by news of difficulties they will certainly be forced to face. One member is lost to the police, when he is arrested for a crime he falsely claims to have committed.   

Eventually, though, they arrive in California, only to find the struggle becoming even greater, as jobs are scarce, and of the few jobs that actually remain, the pay is not even sufficient to feed a family. Desperation has set in among other migrants, and violence rears its head at times. Hunger and the desire to provide for their families fuels the only spirit remaining in these broken people.   

Tom is eventually wanted for murder, after a scuffle with murderous thugs. He must go into hiding, where he vows to a life of helping those who are oppressed. The rest of the family faces even more difficulties, as flooding forces them from the boxcar they have called home for a short time.  

Steinbeck uses the story to illustrate very real social issues of the time. While the Joad family is fictional, their experience is considered very much true to life. Steinbeck spent much of his life devoted to exposing the damage done by big corporations driven by greed. Steinbeck’s heart was with the working man, the migrant workers, the farmers who worked the soil, only to be uprooted, abused, and taken advantage of by companies and organizations that have industrialized agriculture to the point that the only point of matter is maximizing profit, regardless of the cost to families.  

  • Author(s)

    John Steinbeck
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Historical Fiction


 The Viking Press-James Lloyd