Research Paper on Contextualizing the "Grapes of Wrath" Within the Epic of Great Depression and Dust Bowl

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1319 Words
Date:  2022-02-12


Written by John Steinbeck in 1939, "The Grapes of Wrath," despite its critiques and controversial interpretations of the message, was a classic literary piece. The author wittily made the novel have a realistic appeal by following the Joad family on a journey from Oklahoma to California. The author used the book to portray the life of migrant workers in the then American society in a more believable way that created a perfect integration of reality into fiction. Placing the novel within its context, it is evident that the author was obsessed with a sheer need to provide a more accurate reflection of the plight of the people that was occasioned by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. These epics were some of the most devastating periods in American history. In fact, in the novel, the author, though uncannily, captures the involuntary as well as wilful attempts by people to adapt to changes within their natural environment. Since the change is so overwhelming that the people themselves cannot manage to revert, they are compelled to evolve and adapt to it as a means of survival. For instance, the book traces the movement of migrant workers from one place to another, challenged by the ghost of capitalism, but still, they remain resilient. The Grapes of Wrath reflects on the predicaments of the American society occasioned by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Due to the difficulties of the periods, each member of the community struggled to subsist which led to some form of competition for resources.

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

Even though some of his writings were perceived as being controversial in his time, the literary contributions of John Steinbeck remain as real today as they were then. Born in Salinas in the State of California to a moderate family, Steinbeck registered to Stanford University but did not complete his degree. Nonetheless, this did not dampen his focus on writing about various issues that he considered of fundamental importance to his society. He wrote many novels including Tortilla Flat, In Dubious Battle, Of Mice and Men, The Long Valley and the Grapes of Wrath among others. His stories considerably lean towards being social writing that focuses on depicting economic problems of rural labor. His books can be conceived as a metamorphosis from a focus on humor to serious social criticism as depicted in "In Dubious Battle" which looks at the distasteful labor unrest by the migratory fruits pickers in the farms of California. "The Grapes of Wrath", which is the subject of this essay, is another social critic literature which follows the tedious journey of tenant farmers who move from Oklahoma to California. The departure is one that leads them out of the desperation and inability to earn from their land as a result of the Great Depression.

"The Grapes of Wrath," though in not a straightforward way, provides the author's refection on the Great Depression which lasted throughout the 1930s. The period was marked by a significant decline in commerce and agricultural viability thus making life difficult for most Americans. Out of desperation and desire to attain a better life, most farm families had to leave their homes and seek a better life in places such as California. This is well embodied in the Joad Family that migrates from Oklahoma to California. Initially, the Joad family though that with time their lives would revert to normalcy, but as reality dawned on them that the economic depression had persisted, they had to move. As Steinbeck notes, Street 66 was the path that the people devastated by the dust and shirking ownership used as a way out of their suffering. Nonetheless, Highway 66 itself was long, had its challenges and presented a lot of suffering which the people had to endure if they had to survive (Morretta 85). Steinbeck noted that "...66 is the mother road, the road of flight" (Steinbeck 151). It signified an escape from desperations to a more promising life in areas of perceived potential such as California.

The book "The Grapes of Wrath" is also a recapture of the drought and Dust Bowl which destroyed farms and left the farm families in poverty. The migration through highway 66 is an embodiment of the farmers and their families who previously cultivated wheat and kept livestock on the South-western Great Plains, but their life drastically changed when the Dust Bow scoured away the soils (Morretta 92). Instinctively they had to move from what used to be the primary source of livelihood and seek survival elsewhere. In "Grapes of Wrath" the author uses the Joad family to portray the struggles that characterized the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Although many readers may conceive that the Joad family is a real family, the author succeeded in demystifying the common struggles by the then farm families to keep their families together amidst biting economic downturn and non-performance of the agricultural farms. Through the suffering of the Joads, Steinbeck emotionally appeals to the reader to be part of the story. Using captivating imagery and careful choice of words, the author involves the reader in having a vivid impression for the immigrants. He notes "We all got to figure. There's some way to stop this. It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God, that's something we can change." (Steinbeck 50).

The "Grapes of Wrath" shows the elusive nature of the American dream due to various devastations arising from the Great Depression and the subsequent Dust Bowl which forced the Joads out of their home. In the book, the migrants, obsessed with the American Dream of achieving the best for themselves, moved to California with the thought that they would land a job and lead an entirely new life that is free from the tribulations of the rural setting. In the novel, the author cleverly casts aspersion on the attainability of the American dream unless various unprecedented occurrences such as the economic depression are forestalled. Through the movement of the Joads, the author demonstrates that an initial change in the economy and agricultural performance resulted in the migration in search for a better life which turned out to be a mirage. The Joads moved in so many paces, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clearer that they did not manage to attain any success in California (Owens 67). Similarly, the Joad's are obsessed to find success and becomes blinded not even to ascertain the possibility of getting the life that they seek to attain. Just because they believe that life in rural areas has become untenable due to economic depression, they are driven by the belief that a better way exists elsewhere. They conceived that "there's work there, and never gets cold" (Steinbeck 34).


Steinbeck in "The Grapes of Wrath" follows the journey of the Joads from Oklahoma to California where they anticipate to get a better life. Even though the book has been met with critics and accolades in equal measure, it provides a critical look at one of the epical moments in the history of America where the rural families moved from their homes to seek a better life in towns such as California. The Great Depression made the economy difficult for the rural populations and the Dust Bowl which destroyed the farms at that time rendered agriculture impossible. From the imagery used by the author, it is possible for the reader to closely relate with the devastations of the majority of the then American society who had to contend with the non-performing economy and a subsequent fail in agriculture. Therefore, the migratory journey is portrayed as the movement by the American rural from devastations to perceived high potential areas to attain the American Dream of prosperity for all.

Works Cited

Morretta, Alison. John Steinbeck and the Great Depression. 2015. Print.

Owens, Louis. The Grapes of Wrath: Trouble in the Promised Land. No. 27. Twayne Publishers, 1989.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin, 1976. Print.

Cite this page

Research Paper on Contextualizing the "Grapes of Wrath" Within the Epic of Great Depression and Dust Bowl. (2022, Feb 12). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism