Tom Joad: I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin' fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin'. And I been wonderin' if all our folks got together and yelled...
Ma Joad: Oh, Tommy, they'd drag you out and cut you down just like they done to Casey.
Tom Joad: They'd drag me anyways. Sooner or later they'd get me for one thing if not for another. Until then...
Ma Joad: Tommy, you're not aimin' to kill nobody?
Tom Joad: No, Ma, not that. That ain't it. It's just, well as long as I'm an outlaw anyways... maybe I can do somethin'... maybe I can just find out somethin', just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that's wrong and see if they ain't somethin' that can be done about it. I ain't thought it out all clear, Ma. I can't. I don't know enough.
Ma Joad: How am I gonna know about ya', Tommy? Why they could kill ya and I'd never know. They could hurt ya'. How am I gonna know?
Tom Joad: Well, maybe it's like Casy says. A fellow ain't got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then...
Tom Joad: Then it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.
Ma Joad: I don't understand it, Tom.
Tom Joad: Me, neither, Ma, but - just somethin' I been thinkin' about.
"The Grapes of Wrath", novel, written by John Steinbeck, 1939;
"The Grapes of Wrath", film, directed by John Ford, 1940
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The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by American author John Steinbeck, 1902-1968, and published in 1939. Steinbeck's now legendary work won the both the National Book Award and Pulitizer Prize for novels and was cited prominently when he won the The Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Set during the Great Depression of the 1930's...
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the 1930's. For America, the timing of the Great Depression occurred during much of that time, but for nations still ravaged by the physical, emotional, financial, and political destruction of the Great War, 1914-1918, economic whoa would start immediately after the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, 1919. The depression war arguably precipitated by the passage of the United States' 'Smoot-Hawley Tariff' bill in 1930 (i.e., the bill raised U.S. tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods to record levels, the second-highest in U.S. history, exceeded by a small margin only by the U.S. Tariff of 1828; Smoot-Hawley, and the ensuing retaliatory tariffs by U.S. trading partners, reduced American exports and imports by more than half.) and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s. The economic depression was the longest, most widespread, and deepest depression of the 20th century.
In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how far the world's economy can decline. The depression originated in the U.S., after the fall in stock prices that began around September 4, 1929 and became worldwide news with the 'Wall Street Crash' of October, 1929. Also known as the 'Great Crash', the 'Stock Market Crash of 1929' and 'Black Tuesday', the economic crash was the most devastating stock market drop of numbers in the history of the United States at that time, taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout.
The Stock Market Crash of 1929 would serve to signal the beginning of the 10-year Great Depression, having devastating effects in countries both wealthy and poor. Personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices dropped, while international trade plunged by more than 50%, due in large part to the Smoot-Hawley tariff. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25%, and in some countries rose as high as 33%. Nations and their respective cities the world over were deeply affected, especially those dependent on labor-dependent heavy industry and foreign trade. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by approximately 60%. Facing plummeting demand with few alternate sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries (or the sector of an economy making direct use of natural resources) such as cash crops, mining, and logging suffered the most.
Some national economies started to recover by the mid-1930s. In many countries, however, the negative effects of the Great Depression lasted until the start of World War II, 1938-1945.
...the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers (i.e., those who reside on and farms land owned by a landlord, akin to share-cropping, though not the same) driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in financial and agricultural industries. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California. Along with thousands of other 'Oakies', not to mention 'Arkies', they sought jobs, land, dignity, and a future.
The Dust Bowl, or the 'Dirty Thirties', was a period of severe dust storms (i.e., a meteorological phenomenon common in arid and semi-arid regions, dust storms arise when a gust front or other strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface; particles are transported by saltation and suspension, a process that moves soil from one place and deposits it in another) that caused major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prarie lands lands in the 1930s, particularly in 1934 and 1936. The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops (i.e., crops planted primarily to manage soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife cover crops or other techniques to prevent wind and weather erosion). Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the North American Great Plains had displaced the natural deep-rooted grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.
During the drought of the 1930s, without natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to particularly fine soil or dust, and blew away eastward and southward in large, such as New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean carried by prevailing winds, which were in part created by the dry and bare soil conditions. These immense dust storms - given names such as 'black blizzards' and 'black rollers' - often reduced visibility to a few feet (around a meter). The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres, centered on the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, as well as adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. Millions of acres of farmland were damaged, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families migrated to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better during the Great Depression of the 1930's than those they had left.
The Grapes of Wrath, as a novel, developed from The Harvest Gypsies, a series of seven articles that ran in the San Francisco News, from October 5 to October 12, 1936. The newspaper commissioned that work on migrant workers from the Midwest in California's agriculture industry (It was later compiled and published separately). While writing the novel at his California home, in what would be one of three of his California Novels of the 1930's, Steinbeck had unusual difficulty devising a title. "The Grapes of Wrath", suggested by his wife, Carol, was deemed more suitable than anything the author could come up with. The title is a reference to lyrics from The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe, 1819-1910: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on. Critics believe that the image invoked by the title serves as a crucial symbol in the development of both the plot and the novel's greater thematic concerns, where the oppression will come with terrible wrath, but also the deliverance of workers through their cooperation, which is hinted at but does not materialize within the novel.
Preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck, a known and noted sympathizer of American labor, wrote: "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]." He further stated, "I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags."
The narrative begins just after Tom Joad, chief protagonist of the story (the Joad family's second son, named after his father who, later on, takes leadership of the family even though he is still a young man) is paroled from prison for a previous conviction of homicide. On his journey to his home near Sallisaw, Oklahoma, he meets former preacher Jim Casy whom he remembers from his childhood, and the two travel together. When they arrive at his childhood farm home, they find it deserted. Disconcerted and confused, he and Casy meet their old neighbor, Muley Graves, who tells them that the family has gone to stay at Uncle John Joad's home nearby. He goes on to tell them that the banks have kicked all the farmers off their land, but he refuses to go.
Tom and Casy get up the next morning to go to Uncle John's. There, Tom finds his family loading a converted Hudson truck with what remains of their possessions; the crops were destroyed in the Dust Bowl and, as a result, the family had to default on their loans. With their farm repossessed, the Joads cling to hope, mostly in the form of handbills distributed everywhere in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, describing the fruitful state of California and the high pay to be had in that state. The Joads are seduced by this advertising and invest everything they have into the journey. Although leaving Oklahoma would be breaking parole, Tom decides that it is a risk worth taking. Casy joins the family as well.
Going west on the now legendary American roadway, Route 66, the Joad family discovers that the road is saturated with other families making the same trek, ensnared by the same promise. In makeshift camps, they hear many stories from others, some coming back from California, and are forced to confront the possibility that their prospects may not be what they hoped. Along the road, Grampa' dies and is buried in the camp; Granma dies close to the California state line, both Noah (the eldest Joad son) and Connie (the husband of the pregnant Joad daughter, Rose of Sharon) split from the family; the remaining members, led by Ma, realize they have no choice but to go on, as there is nothing remaining for them in Oklahoma.
Upon arrival, they find little hope of making a decent wage, as there is an oversupply of labor and a lack of rights, and the big corporate farmers are in collusion, while smaller farmers are suffering from collapsing prices. A gleam of hope is presented at "Weedpatch Camp," one of the clean/sanitary, utility-supplied camps operated by the Resettlement Administration, an agency of the New Deal, established by 32nd President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), 1882-1945, that has been established to help the migrants, but there is not enough money and space to care for all of the needy. As a Federal facility, the camp is also off-limits to California deputies who constantly harass and provoke the newcomers.
In response to the exploitation of laborers, there are people who attempt for the workers to join labor unions, including Casy, who had gone to jail after taking the blame for attacking a rogue deputy. The remaining Joads work as strikebreakers on a peach orchard where Casy is involved in a strike that eventually turns violent, killing Casy. Tom Joad witnesses the killing (of Casy) and kills the attacker, becoming a fugitive of justice. They later leave the orchard for a cotton farm where Tom is at risk of being identified for the murder he committed.
In what may be the most powerful and significant scene of the book and subsequent movie, Tom Joad bids farewell to his mother, promising that no matter where he runs, he will be a tireless advocate for the oppressed. Rose of Sharon's baby is stillborn; however, Ma Joad remains steadfast and forces the family through the bereavement. When the rains arrive, the Joads' dwelling is flooded, and they move to higher ground.
Throughout the novel, Steinbeck's Tom Joad defends a humanist point of view, breaking civil law or choosing to stand against broader economic mechanisms to follow more humane and universal principles of morality and justice. Long celebrated as a hero and icon of social injustice and protest movements, Tom Joad has been incorporated into song by many artists, including Woody Guthrie, 1912-1967, and Bruce Springsteen, b.1949.
Garnering numerous awards, The Grapes of Wrath was considered a "phenomenon on the scale of a national event," according to Steinbeck scholar John Timmerman. "It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read." Part of its impact stemmed from its passionate depiction of the plight of the poor, and in fact, many of Steinbeck's contemporaries attacked his social and political views. Literary critic Bryan Cordyack writes, "Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book's depiction of California farmers' attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a 'pack of lies' and labeled it 'communist propaganda'. However, although Steinbeck was accused of exaggeration of the camp conditions to make a political point, in fact it is believed that he had done the opposite, underplaying the conditions that he well knew were worse than the novel describes, since he felt exact description would have gotten in the way of his story."
The Grapes of Wrath is frequently read in American high school and college literature classes due to its context and legacy. A Hollywood film version of the novel, starring American actor Henry Fonda, 1905-1982, and directed by American film director John Ford, 1894-1973, was made in 1940. It should be noted that the first part of the film version follows the book fairly accurately, however, the second half and its ending is significantly different.
Click the links to learn more:
Tom Joad Character Analysis (Schmoop)
Tom Joad Was Here (TomJoadWasHere)
Tom's place - for those who seek Peace and Justice (TomJoad)
The Speech of Tom Joad (YourFaithfulNarrator)
The Grapes of Wrath - Novel (Wikipedia)
The Grapes of Wrath, Present at the Creation (NPR)
The Grapes of Wrath - Film (Wikipedia)
The Grapes of Wrath - Film (IMDB)
The Grapes of Wrath - Film Review (EmanuelLevy)
Tom Joad's Speech: Best Film Speeches and Monolgues (AMC)
John Steinbeck (Wikipedia)
John Steinbeck (NobelPrize)
John Steinbeck Biography (SteinbeckCenter)
National Steinbeck Center (Steinbeck.org)
*Information, pictures and video clips used in this blog taken from
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