NEA Big Read
The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

  1. Why would Steinbeck weave general chapters—often called "interchapters"—with the Joad story? Is the alternation consistent, or are there deviations?
  2. The turtle in Chapter 3 is often interpreted as a parable or symbol. What do you think?
  3. In prison, Tom "learned to write nice as hell." Meanwhile, Casy leaves the pulpit to "hear the poetry of folks talkin'." How does Steinbeck strike a balance between the more metaphorical, image-laden prose of "birds an' stuff" and "the poetry of folks talking"?
  4. Casy says, "I ain't preachin'. Preachin' is tellin' folks stuff. I'm askin' 'em." Do you feel Steinbeck is doing either in The Grapes of Wrath?
  5. At which points in the book does the power in the family gradually shift from Pa to Ma?
  6. Where do Grandpa and then Grandma die? What might this suggest about where they ultimately do or don't belong?
  7. What enduring piece of American writing does Ma's line—"Why, we're the people"—remind you of? How could this be ironic?
  8. What sorts of things happen by rivers in the novel? Why might that be?
  9. As Casy goes to jail, "On his lips there was a faint smile and on his face a curious look of conquest." And in the novel's last sentence, Rosasharn's "lips came together and smiled mysteriously." Why do both characters leave the novel with a smile?
  10. Steinbeck is known for creating some of the most memorable friendships in American literature. How does Casy serve as a role model for Tom Joad, and Ma Joad for Rosasharn?
  11. Steinbeck's writing was influenced by the cadences and themes of the Old Testament. How does the plight of the Joad family parallel the Israelites in Exodus? Do the Joads receive their Promised Land?
  12. Why do you think this novel continues to have such wide, popular appeal? Is its message still relevant today?
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