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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  1. Explain the importance of the contrast between the dryness of the first part of the novel and the floods of the final part. Note also the frequent references to the sun as a "large red drop" that made a cloud look like a bloody rag and the earth look bloody. How do those images contribute to the meaning of the novel?
  2. Describe the role women play throughout this novel. Pay particular attention to the dialog between Ma and Pa Joad on page 467, and be sure to comment on the significance of Rose of Sharon's final act in the novel.
  3. Explain how Tom's imprisonment affected the way he behaved during the journey and throughout his search for work in California.
  4. Steinbeck describes the migrants as "homeless, hardened, intent, and dangerous" (p. 257). Write a newspaper editorial about those migrants as if you were the editor of a small town newspaper in California.
  5. Steinbeck admired the poor migrants and believed that from their enduring qualities "will grow a new system and a new life which will be better than anything we have had before." Was he right? What kinds of changes have come about because of the suffering of those migrants of the '30s? In our society today, what similar problems exist? What problems in recent times have been exposed by writers the way Steinbeck did in The Grapes of Wrath?
  6. Each of the characters in the novel had a dream of what he or she wanted in the future. Describe your own dreams and expectations for the future and explain how you intend to go about attaining them.
  7. Write a short story to describe what happens to the Wilsons after the Joads leave them behind.
  8. Write a factual newspaper account of the citizens' raid on the camp at Hooverville.
  9. Some Americans believe this novel is dirty, blasphemous, advocates a communistic society, and therefore should not be taught in high schools. Explain to parents in your town why you feel the novel should be read and studied in your high school, or explain to a group of teachers why you feel the novel should not be required.
  1. To learn of the angry reactions of Californians to The Grapes of Wrath, read Frank J. Taylor's "California's Grapes of Wrath," published in 1939. Similarly interesting is Martin Shockley's "The Reception of The Grapes of Wrath in Oklahoma," which appeared in 1944. Both are reprinted in The Viking Critical Library Edition of The Grapes of Wrath: Text and Criticism, edited by Peter Lisca.
  2. Read a simpler view of migrant workers in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, or about a strike of migrant workers in his In Dubious Battle.
  3. Research the requirements for and the other recipients of the Pulitzer Prize (for fiction) and the Nobel Prize, both of which were awarded John Steinbeck. Read his Nobel Prize speech.
  4. Who are the migrant workers today in California? Are they better organized than the "Okies" were? What are the typical wages paid today for picking peaches, lettuce, and other farm produce? Research the housing and living conditions for migrant workers in your state.
  5. Who picks cotton today? Find out about the capabilities of today's modern tractors and harvesters.
  6. What is the percentage of small farms in the U.S. today? How do today's small farmers compete against the gigantic land-owners, and what are their relationships with today's bankers? What has changed for farmers since the 1930s and what problems still exist?
  7. View the 1940 film based on this novel (available on video tape). How closely do Nunnally Johnson's screenplay and John Ford's direction follow the events and the spirit of the book?
  8. Write an advertisement for jobs for migrant workers of the '30s. To what would you want to appeal?
  9. Locate and play recordings of some of the music mentioned throughout this book, such as "Ol' Dan Tucker" and "Chicken Reel." In what ways is the music like the people in The Grapes of Wrath?
  10. Locate drawings or photographs of some of the different types of automobiles mentioned in the novel, such as Cord, LaSalle, and Zephyr. Find out why those cars are no longer manufactured.

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