In his iconic novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), John Steinbeck portrays the hardships of life during the Great Depression in the United States.
Comprehension Questions for a close study of "The Grapes of Wrath"
Chapter 1 Read More
1. How does the setting set the stage for what is to come?
2. What are the farmers waiting for? What are the women afraid that will happen?
Chapter 2 Read More
1. Although there is a “No Riders” sticker on the truck, how does the hitchhiker con the truck driver into giving him a ride?
2. What does the truck driver mean when he says, "Croppers going fast now" and "One cat' takes and shoves ten families out"? 3. What makes the truck driver think that the hitch-hiker has been in prison?
4. What is the life of a truck driver or truck skinner like?
5. What is McAlester? What had Tom Joad done?
Chapter 3 Read More
1. Describe the turtle. What do you think it symbolizes? 2. What happens when the truck tries to hit the turtle?
Chapter 4 Read More
1. Why do you think the words of the Preacher stick in Tom’s memory?
2. What is the Preacher singing when Tom first meets him?
3. What memories does the Preacher have of Tom?
4. Why isn't the Preacher a preacher anymore?
5. How does the Preacher seem lost?
6. Why is the Preacher torn regarding his views on women?
7. Why did Tom kill a man at the dance?
8. What was McAlester like?
Chapter 5 Read More
1. Describe the owners of the land and explain how they could hide behind numbers and statistics?
2. How is the bank inhuman?
3. Explain the tenant system.
4. What makes ownership according to the farmers?
5. How do the owners of the land justify their actions?
6. What are the tractors compared to?
7. What reason did the tractor driver give for demolishing the homes of his own people?
8. What does property mean to the farmers?
Chapter 6 Read More
1. What do Tom and Reverend Casey find when they get to the Joad farm?
2. What crops were being planted?
3. What made Tom think Ma might be dead?
4. Why did Tom think that there was something really wrong?
5. Why didn’t Muley Graves leave the land?
6. Why didn’t Tom’s Grampa kill Willie Freeley, the driver of the tractor, who tried to evict them off the land? How did Grampa feel afterwards?
7. Where had the Joad family gone?
8. What reasons did the owners give for forcing the farmers off?
9. Where did Muley’s wife and family go? How had he changed?
10. Why does Casey feel he has to follow the migrants?
11. What is meant by Tom being on parole?
12. Why doesn’t Tom see prison as a way of rehabilitation?
13. Why would spending the night on their property be dangerous?
Chapter 7 Read More
1. How is the cynicism of the car dealers demonstrated? 2. Describe some of the tricks they used to sell the cars to poor people.
Chapter 8 Read More
1. Why do Tom and Casey think that Muley is crazy?
2. What had made Uncle John into the man he was? How does he try to make up for it?
3. How do the Joads personalize their truck?
4. What type of people were the Joads?
5. What is the first thing Pa thinks when he sees Tom?
6. What does Ma mean when she asks if prison made Tom “mad”? What famous outlaw does Ma refer to as an example of turning “mad”?
7. What had happened to Noah at birth?
8. What do we discover about the Preacher during his speech at dinner?
9. What sets Al apart from the rest of the family? What is his relationship like towards his older brother, Tom?
10. What was Grampa’s dream?
11. Who was Rose of Sharon married to?
12. What did the Joad family have to do to buy the truck?
Chapert 9 Read More
1. How do reactions to being evicted differ between the men and the women? 2. Why were the farmers so depressed regarding the sale of their farm implements and their horses? 3. What hopes and dreams lie in migrating to California? 4. What few things did they take with them? What did they do with the rest of their things they couldn’t take with them?
Chapter 10 Read More
1. Why is Ma skeptical to moving and picking peaches?
2. How does Tom calm her fears?
3. What did Tom learn about California in prison?
4. What does Ma feel towards the Preacher?
5. Why won’t Casey preach or baptize anymore?
6. What childlike qualities do Ruthie and Winfield possess compared to Rose of Sharon?
7. How is Connie Rivers different from the rest of the family?
8. What were Uncle John’s vices?
9. What is Al’s main responsibility throughout the book?
10. What had made the men so tired and angry in this chapter? 11. Since the houses and fields were dead to them now, what object became the meeting grounds and nucleus of the family?
12. Describe the hierarchy of the family at the outset of their journey to California.
13. What made Ma finally decide to allow the Preacher to accompany them?
14. How does the Preacher show solidarity with the women?
15. What does Ma allow herself to bring with her?
16. What message did Muley want the Joads to relay to his family in California?
17. Why didn’t Grampa want to go? What did they have to do to get him to go with them?
18. What does Tom offer up for the family?
Chapter 11 Read More
1. What was left after the houses and land became vacant? 2. Why doesn't the tractor man have any understanding of the land?
Chapter 12 Read More
1. What does Route 66 symbolize?
2. What makes crossing the desert so frightening?
3. How do people with small businesses take advantage of the migrants on the road?
4. What attitudes are revealed towards the migrants?
5. Why do you think Steinbeck mentions the man who picked up a family of 12?
Chapter 13 Read More
1. Describe how Al had become the soul of their Hudson.
2. Why couldn’t Ma show that she was scared?
3. What was slowly happening to Granma and Grampa?
4. Why was the gasoline station attendant skeptical towards them? What type of people stopped at his gas station?
5. According to Casey, why is the entire country "movin’"?
6. Why does Tom get angry at the gas station attendant?
7. Why will the gas station attendant also have to move soon?
8. What are Rose of Sharon and Connie mostly focused on?
9. What happened to the Joads’ dog?
10. How does Tom rationalize about keeping his parole?
11. How does Tom’s appeal towards hospitality affect Ivy and Sairy Wilson from Kansas?
12. Why did Grampa get sick?
13. After Grampa’s stroke, how had the structure of the family changed?
14. When Grampa dies why don't they take him to the undertaker? 15. What scriptures do they use to bury Grampa with?
16. What does Casey finally say over Grampa’s body?
17. Why was Grampa’s grave left unmounded?
18. Why do the Joads and Wilsons decide to go together?
Chapter 14 Read More
1. Why are the land owners in the Western States nervous and afraid? 2. What does Steinbeck mean by the change that is taking place among the migrants who have lost their land?
Chapter 15 Read More
1. Describe Mae and Al – why do you think they are significant?
2. Compare the behavior of the wealthy drivers and the poor migrants. How do they differ?
3. How does Mae feel towards the successful customers driving huge cars to California? Why does she prefer truck drivers?
4. What is the argument between Al and Mae about with regards to the loaf of bread? How is the dignity of the poor family preserved? 5. Why do you think Mae gives the farmer the candy for the little boys?
Chapter 16 Read More
1. Geographically, where are the Joads and Wilsons in this chapter?
2. Why does Steinbeck compare the families to the land turtle?
3. What are Connie and Rose of Sharon’s plans for the future?
4. Why didn't the Joads leave the Wilson's when their car broke down?
5. Why did Ma refuse to continue on with Al and the others in the truck while Tom and Casey stay behind to fix the con-rod bearing on the Wilsons’ car?
6. What do they all finally decide to do?
7. What does Casey notice while they were on the road?
8. Describe the first camp they come to.
9. What does Tom explain to Al regarding his prison sentence?
10. Why does the man at the junk yard for wrecked cars hate the owner?
11. What is it about the man at the junk yard that angers Tom?
12. Why does Tom demonstrate anger at the owner of the camp? 13. What would happen if he and Al slept out in a ditch and not at the camp?
14. What information did the ragged man at the camp relay to Pa? 15. Who are the “trouble makers” according to the camp owner? 16. What did the coroner say the ragged man’s wife and children died of?
Chapter 17 Read More
1. Why was there a feeling of Family and togetherness on the road?
2. What codes and rights were established among the people moving westward?
3. How are chores now delegated?
4. How had the social structure of the migrants’ lives changed?
5. What courtesies were observed?
6. What examples of developing social structures among the migrants are seen in this chapter?
7. How does the guitar music and singing help the migrants?
Chapter 18 Read More
1. What does the border guard ask them when they leave Arizona?
2. What signs of exploitation are seen at the beginning of this chapter?
3. What impressions do the various members of the family have of California?
4. Why is their arrival in California almost anticlimactic?
5 Why are the men from the Panhandle returning?
6. What does the term “Okie” mean to the locals and the law? Why do they hate them?
7. Why isn’t Uncle John affected by what the man from the Panhandle says?
8. Why does Noah stay behind at the river?
9. What happened to Granma during the journey?
10. How did Ma respond to the religious, Jehovite woman? Describe the religious meeting.
11. What does the man wearing a pistol, boots, khaki pants and a military cap threaten Ma with?
12. How does Ma’s response show that she has changed?
13. How many of the family are left now?
14. What reason do the Wilsons give for not going on? What does Sairy want Casey to do?
15. How do the Joads help the Wilsons before leaving?
16. What was it like crossing the Mohave dessert?
17. Why does Uncle John think he might bring bad luck to folks? 18. Why was Ma hysterical when they got to Daggett?
19. What do they see when they finally cross the Mohave dessert? 20. What was Casey’s response to how Ma acted while Granma was dying?
Chapter 19 Read More
1. How did the Americans acquire and take over California from the Mexicans? Why did this happen?
2. Make a concise bullet list which traces the development from squatters to store keepers.
3. How had the crops changed?
4. Why did the owners of the land, the store keepers, the town men, little bankers and laboring people all hate Okies? Why were Okies and the dispossessed a danger?
5. What would a homeless, hungry man regard as a sin?
6. What is meant by the term “Hooverville”?
7. What crops were allowed to grow? What was missing from the farms?
8. Why did the deputies do to people who had tried to plan a little patch of land to feed themselves?
9. What excuse did the deputies use to force people from the Hoovervilles?
10. What is Black Tongue?
Chapter 20 Read More
1. What did they do at the coroner’s office in Bakersfield? Why couldn’t they have a nice funeral for Granma?
2. When they drove out in the country, what kind of camp did they find?
3. What had made the so-called “Mayor” of this camp behave the way he did?
4. Why do the authorities keep pushing people around there by keeping them from settling?
5. What information does the young man give Tom about “looking for work” and the “hand bills” that so many had seen? How much was he paid an hour?
6. What strategy do the farm owners use to force men to work for practically nothing?
7. What signs are there that Tom is a born activist?
8. What are some of the techniques used to keep down activists? 9. How did the migrants in the camp suggest Tom should behave? 10. In what way is Casey also an activist?
11. Why do you think Tom tells Casey to stay with them?
12. What does Connie feel about their situation? What does he do?
13. Why did the woman reprimand Ma for giving the children stew? 14. In what way does Floyd Knowles, the man with the car, demonstrate kindness?
15. What happens when Floyd Knowles asks to see the Tulare contractor’s license and questions him about wages?
16. What does Casey do when the deputy starts threatening and firing on the men?
17. Why did Tom have to flee the scene?
18. How is Rose of Sharon’s panic revealed?
19. What was Uncle John's sin?
20. What would happen later that night in the camp?
21. What did Pa think of Connie’s behavior?
22. How does Tom get the drunken Uncle John to leave with them? 23. Why was it necessary to keep the family together?
24. What does Tom mean by saying, “They’re workin’ on our decency?”
25. How is the Joad family finally able to get out of the camp? Where were they headed?
Chapter 21 Read More
1. What changed the migrants?
2. Why was the property owners’ fear of the migrants increasing? 3. How did the property owners rationalize and defend their actions?
4. Why was it true that the migrants had no sense of property rights?
5. How did the migrants themselves press the wages down?
6. How were cannery owners able to make a profit?
7. What is meant by “the banks worked at their own doom and they did not know it”?
Chapter 22 Read More
1. What is our first impression of “ Weedpatch” or Government camp?
2. In what way are both the people running the camp and its tenants different from what we have seen so far?
3. How is this camp organized and run?
4. What happened to the Wallaces’ car?
5. The work the Wallaces were able to find laying down pipe for the Gas Company was only temporary, why, then, did they ask Tom to come along?
6. What reasons did Mr. Thomas, the man that had hired them, give for having to decrease their wages from thirty cents to twenty-five cents an hour?
7. Why doesn’t the Farmer’s Association like the government camps? What methods did they use to disrupt any grievances made by the migrants?
8. By calling any agitator a “red”, the authorities, bank associations and land owners seem to justify their brutality towards the migrants. Why is this so?
9. What were some of the activities the Ladies Committee were responsible for? How is it organized?
10. How does the decency of the camp influence Ma?
11. How does Lisbeth Sandry, the stocky, religious zealot frighten Rose of Sharon?
12. How does Jim Rawley, the camp manager deal with her fears? 13. What was the camp's view on charity?
14. What signs are there that the brutality and hostility the Joads have experienced so far have affected Ruthie? 16. What does Ma say to Lisbeth Sandry?
Chapter 23 Read More
1. What is significant by the story telling that takes place in this chapter? What morals are revealed through the stories?
2. Find examples of music and rhythm in this chapter. What does this add to the novel as a whole?
Chapter 24 Read More
1. In preparation for the Saturday night dance, what did Ezra Huston, chairman of the Central Committee, tell his men?
2. How do the men on the entertainment committee manage to keep peace around the camp during the dance so the deputies cannot arrest them and make trouble?
3. Why do the deputies hate the Okies and the camps?
4. What role did Tom play on the entertainment committee?
5. Why didn’t Pa and Uncle John take the job they were offered for twenty cents?
6. What do the dances mean to the migrants?
7. How did the trouble makers manage to get into the dance? How were their actions to start a riot thwarted? 8. What kind of change was exemplified in this chapter by the incident that took place in Akron Ohio at the Rubber company?
Chapter 25 Read More
1. How does the description of spring in California contrast to the reality of the migrants?
2. Why can’t they pick the cherries?
3. How is pollution and immorality demonstrated?
4. What is meant by “the grapes of wrath”?
Chapter 26 Read More
1. How is Ma’s strength exhibited through Winfield’s attack?
2. What is Pa’s reaction to Ma’s taking charge? 3. How does Ma placate the frustrated Rose of Sharon?
4. What did Tom fear would happen if they stay at the Hooverville camps?
5. Why are they forced to go North?
6. How do the deputies stop unions from forming?
7. What attitudes do the migrants exhibit to having been burned out of the Hoovervilles over and over again?
8. What happened on the way to the Hooper Ranch?
9. What did they see at the entrance to the Hooper Ranch? What was taking place?
10. What was this ranch like? In what ways are they exploited?
11. How did the little bald man at the Hooper Ranch Incorporated store get the job? What would happen to him if he gave Ma credit? 12. What does Ma learn from the little bald man at the company store?
13. How does the guard act towards Tom when he asks if there was any place he could get a bath?
14. What warning did the guard give Tom when he wanted to take a walk outside the camp? How did he get out?
15. What had Casey been involved in while in prison? What does Casey compare striking to?
16. Why were conditions better at the government camp?
17. What do the Joads think about striking?
18. Why do the State police consider Casey a leader?
19. What happens to Casey when the guards find him? What are his last words?
20. Why is Tom forced to hide?
21. How did the family know that the guards busted the strike?
22. What arguments does Ma use to persuade Tom to stay with the family?
23. Describe Rose of Sharon’s outburst.
24. What was Winfield suffering from?
25. How is the Joad family able to sneak Tom out?
26. What makes them stop by the box cars? Where is Tom forced to hide?
Chapter 27 Read More
1. How are the cotton pickers exploited?
Chapter 28 Read More
1. Describe the box cars?
2. What makes Ruthie expose Tom and his situation?
3. How has Tom been affected by what Casey had been saying? Explain the scripture Casey quoted to him.
4. Sum up Tom’s parting words to Ma?
5. Who were the Wainwrights?
6. How do Ma and Pa differ regarding their thoughts on how men and women tackle living?
7. How does Rose of Sharon react to the news that Al and Aggie want to get married?
8. What did they find when they got to the cotton farm at dawn?
9. Why is rain such an ominous sign?
10. What do Ma and Mrs Wainwright do when Rose of Sharon catches a chill?
Chapter 29 Read More
1. How do the changes in nature and setting dramatically affect the migrants?
Chapter 30 Read More
1. Why does Ma want to keep the Wainwrights with them?
2. Steinbeck uses the rain to emphasize the migrants’ situation. Why can’t the Joads leave?
3. What must the men do to prevent flooding the box car?
4. When the motors of the cars flood, who does Mr. Wainwright blame for making them stay?
5. Who helps Ma deliver Rose of Sharon’s baby?
6. How is Uncle John affected by the birth?
7. What happened to the baby?
8. Why do you think Mrs. Wainwright stayed to help Ma?
9. What does Uncle John do with the body of the baby? Why?
10. How do they save themselves and their things?
11. Who finally takes the lead and moves the family to higher ground?
12. Who did they find once they got to the Black barn?
13. How does Rose of Sharon help the starving man?
The setting in this novel takes on epic proportions.
a) During what period in history does the story takes place?
b) How do settings change from the outset of the story to the end?
c) How do the various settings affect the migrants in their struggles and actions?
d) Find examples of Steinbeck’s descriptions of nature and animals.
- What do they represent?
- How is man’s attack on nature brought forth in the story?
a) Make a character table using the character traits below of the following characters: Tom Joad, Ma Joad, Pa Joad, Jim Casey, Rose of Sharon, Grampa Joad, Granma Joad, Al Joad, Noah Joad, Uncle John, Ruthie Joad, Winfield Joad, MuleyGraves, Connie Rivers, Ivy and Sairy Wilson, the Wainwrights
- Age and physical appearance
- Personality traits
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Static character/developing character
b) What do they symbolize?
c) What is it that you like or dislike about them?
d) What picture do they give of human nature?
e) Who are the villains in the story?
- What side of human nature do they represent?
Plot and Structure
a) Sum up the plot of the story
b) How is the novel structured
c) What do the shorter chapters bring to the story?
d) Turning points
- Make a chart of the turning points in the novel
- What chapter would you consider as the climax of the novel? Why?
Conflict or tension
What is the main conflict in the story?
a) Which scenes or episodes can be said to be most tragic?
b) How does Steinbeck build up suspense in the novel?
- Which scenes are the most exciting?
Narrators and Point of View
a) Who are the narrators of the story?
b) How do they differ in point of view?
d) Does the author speak through them?
Choose one of the following themes and write an essay where you discuss and exemplify how the theme is developed in the novel.
- Helping each other
Dialogue and Slang
Steinbeck uses slang and dialogue throughout the novel. What are some of the characteristics in the way the Joads speak? Can you find any stock phrases or expressions that are individual to our characters?
Rhythm or “an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech” (See Marriam Webster Dictionary) is an important element in the novel. Find examples of Steinbeck’s use of rhythm and explain how the different rhythms echo what is taking place.
Describe the tone of the story
Are there any shifts in tone during the novel?
What do the following symbols or metaphors represent?
The name Rose of Sharon
The land owners
Discuss the following with a partner
a) The title The Grapes of Wrath alludes to the words, “the grapes of wrath” from Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Look up the words to "Battle Hymn of the Republic” and discuss whether the title is appropriate or not.
b) The ending to The Grapes of Wrath has been a topic of controversy by many critics. Discuss what you think of the ending. Why do you think Steinbeck ended it as he did? How would you have ended it?
Choose ONE of the following topics and write an essay:
a) The Grapes of Wrath has been called a “social novel”, Why? Start with the social background to the novel and then give a short description of the various social groups that are represented. Lastly, explain how the social background to the novel amplifies the actions of the Joad family.
b) In an essay discuss the economic as well as moral decline of the Joad family. Where is this most evident in the novel? What are they left with in the end?
c) The women in The Grapes of Wrath play various roles. Begin by discussing what these roles are at the start of the book. How do their roles change the further away they get from their home? How does this affect the hierarchy of the family?
Choose one of the characters and write an entry for his or her diary for one day.
Write a book review as it would be presented in a newspaper.
Write an Interview
Choose your favorite character and write an interview for TV or radio. Together with a partner, you may record the interview using a sound editor (e.g.audacity). Go online and find the Woodie Guthrie songs from his Dust Bowl period as background music.
Go online and find material on the personal histories of Americans who lived through the Dust Bowl period. Then make a digital presentation of your findings to the class including the music of the times, historical photos from magazines and newspapers found online. Suggested sites:
American Experience - Surviving the Dust Bowl
New Deal Network - Research and Study
American Experience - Riding The Rails
American Memory - Voices from the Dust Bowl