The Grapes of Wrath Reading Guide

Find questions, exercises, and assignments designed to guide students' reading of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath while promoting discussion, research, and writing.
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Updated on: November 3, 2000
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Chapters 1-11: The Land

  1. What does the setting of the opening scene suggest about the rest of the novel? What does it suggest about family structure?
  2. Animals play an important symbolic role throughout this novel. What important qualities does the land turtle have as described in Chapter 3?
  3. What opinions does Casy, the former preacher, have about sin and using "bad words"?
  4. How do the tractors operate? What role does the bank play? What power do the small farmers have against the banks and the tractors?
  5. Of what importance is Muley in this story? What's the difference between being the hunter and being the hunted?
  6. Chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 tell the narrative about Tom Joad and his family the way novels usually do. What is the function of the other short chapters (1, 3, 5, etc.)? What does Chapter 7 imply about used-car salesmen?
  7. What do the faces of the Joad family reveal about them? What are the most important characteristics of Ma and Pa and of the grandparents?
  8. How does each member of the family feel about going to California? How does each feel about leaving home? What is young Tom's philosophy for dealing with the future? What does Ma's burning of the old stationery box illustrate?

Chapters 12-18: The Migration

  1. What is the first unpleasant event that occurs on the Joads' journey? What does that event portend about what lies ahead?
  2. What happens to solidify the family as they drive along? Of what significance is Grampa Joad's death? How does Granma take it? What is Ma's philosophy of "holdin' on"? What is the value of Casy's prayer?
  3. What does it show about the Joads when they befriend the Wilsons? What is the significance of the change from "I" to "We" (p. 165)?
  4. What is the function of Chapter 15? What does it imply about businessmen, waitresses, and truck drivers?
  5. When the car breaks down, what is significant about Ma's reaction? How does the mechanical difficulty affect the relationship between Tom and Al?
  6. How does the one-eyed man in the junkyard feel about the owner of the yard? What advice does Tom give him?
  7. In the camping area, what information does the ragged man give to Pa about California? What effect does that information have on the Joads?
  8. What effect does the nightly camping have on the people heading for California? How does it give them strength and power?
  9. What is the Joads' first view of California? What impressions of California do the two men from the Panhandle provide? Why does Noah leave? What is Ma's response?
  10. Why are the migrants called "Okies"? What do the two boys in the service station in Needles say about Okies?
  11. Of what symbolic value is the desert? Does California look the way the characters thought it would? What do we learn about Granma? What do Ma's reactions again show about her?

Chapters 19-30: The Promised Land

  1. How has farming changed according to Chapter 19? Why do the local people fear the migrants? What is a Hooverville? How do you suppose a Hooverville got its name? What are the "three great facts of history" (p. 263), and what do they imply about the outcome of the events in this novel?
  2. Why is it so difficult to obtain work in California? Why do wages fall? What keeps the men from uniting? What advice does Floyd Knowles give? How is Rose of Sharon affected by all of this?
  3. How do the police treat the migrants? Why? What does Casy's attack on the deputy reveal about him? Why is Uncle John so upset? What causes Connie to leave?
  4. What does Ma Joad mean when she says "Why, we're the people - we go on"?
  5. In what ways does the hostility of the local people change the migrants? How are the government camps different from the Hoovervilles? What is effective about the way they are run?
  6. How does Mr. Thomas (Chapter 22) treat the workers? How does Tom feel about working? In what ways does Mr. Thomas represent the dilemma of the small farmer?
  7. How do the Joads, especially the children, show their ignorance of "modern" conveniences?
  8. What do the events in Chapter 22 say about charity, religion, and hard work? What and who are "reds"?
  9. How is it that people are starving when fruit is overabundant? Why do the owners destroy the surplus?
  10. Why do the Joads leave the government camp at Weedpatch? How is life at the Hooper ranch different? How is it typical of the lives of migrants? What does Ma's encounter in the store show about the plight of migrant workers?
  11. What does Tom discover about Casy? How is Casy different from what he once was? How does Tom react to the attack on Casy?
  12. What do the boxcars provide besides shelter? In hiding, what decision does Tom make? How does Ma feel about that? What conclusion does Ma reach about the family? What keeps them all from giving up?
  13. How does the rain affect the lives of the migrants? Of what importance is building the dike, even if it breaks? How does Ma know they will survive?
  14. What impact does the stillbirth of Rose of Sharon's baby have? What does Uncle John do with the dead baby, and what does this act signal about him and the other migrants?
  15. Why is Rose of Sharon's feeding the starving man an appropriate ending for this novel? Why is she smiling "mysteriously"?

Digging Deeper

  1. In the beginning, each character has personal reasons for wanting to go to California. In what ways does each individual's goal change? Which people grow to see a larger purpose in life? What factors contribute to their changes?
  2. The heroes of The Grapes of Wrath are on the bottom of the social ladder; their language is often vile, their behavior is sometimes as coarse as their language, and they freely discuss bodily functions (which in the 1930s were seldom mentioned in literature). What was Steinbeck's purpose in portraying such unrefined and coarse people? What would be the effect on readers if the Joads spoke "proper" English and did not curse?
  3. According to statements made in this novel, of what importance is anger in overcoming fear? What must be done with anger in order to make it productive? Do you agree or disagree with that philosophy as expressed in this novel?
  4. What is the effect of the chapters which come between the narrative about the Joads? How would the elimination of those chapters affect the meaning and the impact of the novel?
  5. Identify as many Biblical references or parallels as you can find in the novel and discuss their effectiveness as well as their meaning.
  6. The political implications of this novel have been strongly attacked. In what ways is the novel a criticism of capitalism? Does the novel advocate communism? Defend your opinions with evidence from the novel.
  7. In what ways is your definition of the term family similar to the meaning Ma Joad gives to the term? In what ways is Ma Joad's meaning different? What do the implications of her meaning contribute to the author's message in the novel?
  8. If you had been an owner of a large California farm in 1939, how would you have felt about people like the Joads? As the owner of that farm, how might this novel have changed your feelings?
  9. Steinbeck wrote to his editor about this novel: "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags, I don't want him satisfied." Did he succeed in doing that to you? If, so how did he accomplish it? If not, why weren't you affected in that way?
  10. Some critics maintain that this novel promotes hatred between classes of people. In what ways does it do that? In what ways does the novel's effect go beyond that?
  11. What has become of Noah? What does Connie do with the rest of his life? What will Tom become, and will he be successful at it? What will Al do next? How will these events change Rose of Sharon?
  12. You might have utilized notes from your Response Journal to answer some of the questions above. Now select one specific, unanswered question that you raised in your journal and see if your classmates can shed some light on that issue.
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