National Endowment for the Arts - The 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.


Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Photo Gallery: Ask students to find Depression-era photographs of rural farm workers, as in the work of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Ask them also to look for photos of contemporary migrant workers in the United States from recent periodicals. They should try to find pairs of photos that echo or contrast with each other in subject or spirit. They should be able to discuss the photographs they bring, and point to details that explain why they chose them. Have students exhibit this “gallery” at a local library.
  2. Explore the historical period of the 1930s by creating posters that provide in-depth information on what was happening in the following artistic disciplines: music and jazz, theatre, painting and sculpture, photography, and dance. Display these posters in classrooms around the school.
  3. Ask students to produce a scene in which they put Tom Joad on trial for murdering a man with a pick handle. They should write the dialogue and perform the parts of the characters who testify. The scene can be produced at a student assembly. Include a discussion afterward.
  4. Have students write a newspaper article describing the eventual fates of any of the Joads alive at the novel’s end: Tom, Noah, Connie, Al, Ma, Pa, Rosasharn. Students should use their imaginations but base their stories on what they know about their subject from the novel. Have students display their articles at a local library or bookstore.
  5. Ask students to imagine they are government officials reporting on the conditions of California migrant workers during the Depression. Have them write a report on what they find among the workers at one of the stops along the Joads’ journey: Sallisaw, Santa Rosa, Needles, Bakersfield, Weedpatch, or the cotton camp. Ask them to explain the causes of the situation in their report and offer practical solutions.
  6. Host a screening of Nunnally Johnson and John Ford’s movie version of The Grapes of Wrath at a local theater. Invite a scholar to come to the screening and lead a discussion afterward about the adaptation of the novel.
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