John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath 1939

  Criticism | Databases | Websites | Themes

When the rain wouldn't come, and the crops couldn't grow, the winds still blew.  They were filled with the infertile earth, which they arranged and rearranged in the time known as the Dust Bowl.  Farmers such as the Joads lost their farms to the banks.  Unable to figure out what else to do, they packed up and headed for California, the bountiful land with multiple growing seasons.  Although it sounded like the Promised Land, when they arrived, they found that they were part of a great migration and there wasn't enough work for the multitudes.

Growers in California needed the migrant workers in spurts, and felt no compunction to help them survive the rest of the time.  There were so many workers available that there was no need to give them a living wage.  When workers would strike, there were others to take their place.  If they were starving to death, the growers would rationalize that it was their own faults.

John Steinbeck grew up in California and witnessed the plight of the migrant workers, or Okies, as they were called because so many of them migrated from the dust bowl of Oklahoma.  He worked beside them, visited their camps, and traveled to Oklahoma as he researched the background.  The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.


Sample Themes

Essential unity of man Forces of the times The Family comes first
The people's justice Class conflict Individual vs. Society
Biblical parallels The Promised Land Hope and survival
Your brother's keeper House and home Women's strength


Literary Criticism may be found in books and journals. 

Reference Books

You will probably start your search with Reference Books.  They give you a feel for the types of criticism available.  Because they are often overviews, you might not find them appropriate to quote in your paper.
PN41 .D5, 
vol. 9, 212
Dictionary of Literary Biography DLB Steinbeck's Life.  The influences of his life on Grapes of Wrath; the influences of Grapes of Wrath on his life.
PN50 .L574, vol. 3 Literature and Its Times Historical Background of the story.
PN44 .M33, vol. 4 Masterplots Summary of the story and the characters.
PN771 .C59, vols.1,5,9,13, 21, 34,
45, 59, 75, 124
Contemporary Literay Criticism CLC Excerpts from literary criticism.
PN3385 .N68, vol. 7 Novels for Students Good starting point.  Historical setting, themes, character descriptions, criticism.
PS129 .A55, vol. 4 American Writers The development of Steinbeck's writing.
PS221 .T834 Twentieth Century American Literature TCLC Literary criticism.
PS374 .C43 M35 Major Characters in American Fiction Character descriptions of Ma, Rose of Sharon, and Tom.

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The best way to find journal articles is to search an appropriate database.  Kingwood College students may search most of our recommended databases from any computer.  Your password is your library card bar code number.
MLA International Bibliography Comprehensive index to articles in books and journals.  Not full text.
Literature Resource Center Includes articles from CLC, DLB, and Twayne's, as well as some full text journal articles. 
Proquest PA Research II This index to journal articles includes some full text and some older articles you may not find elsewhere.  Be sure to check the Deep Backfile.
Ebsco Academic Search Premier Index to journals articles, some full text.  While similar to Proquest, it may have different articles.




Use MLA for an index to articles in books.  Also, search the library catalog using grapes wrath in keywords anywhere.
netLibrary Books online, including Cliff Notes, Bloom's Notes, and the book itself.  Search Steinbeck for more results.You must register in the library.  Then it can be used at home
Ditsky, John Critical Essays on Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
French, Warren A Companion to the Grapes of Wrath
Lisca, Peter John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath, text and criticism
Steinbeck, John Working Days : The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath
Heavilin, Barbara The Critical Response to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
Wiener, Gary Readings on the Grapes of Wrath

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Grapes of Wrath - Chapter summaries, from Western Washington University
Steinbeck Timeline, by the Monterey County Historical Society.
Weedpatch Camp - History and pictures of Arvin Federal Government Camp, the prototype for Weedpatch Camp.
San Jose State University Center for Steinbeck Studies - Steinbeck's life and work, including Chronology and photographs
Voices from the Dust Bowl - Music and photographs from the Library of Congress
Pictures from the Dust Bowl - including a video of a dust storm in action.

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This page created 2/02 by Sue Goodwin