Grapes of Wrath (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck, 1939
446 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
July 2008

It's hard to imagine that a book set during the dust-bowl and great-depression, about a migrant farm family beset with poverty and tragedy (grim subjects at best) would have much appeal.

But The Grapes of Wrath is one of America's most beloved works—and a perennial book club favorite. It's simply a beautiful book.

Not only are characters richly drawn, but the narrative concerns—the power of community to affect change, the consequences of greed and self-interest, and the sacredness of everyday life and everyday people—seem particularly apt for our time. But then those issues are apt for any era, which is why the book has achieved iconic status.


As the 9-member Joad family makes its way from Oklahoma to California in search of work, they find that meanness begets meanness and kindness, kindness, a sort of pay-it-forward. As in all stories about journeys, characters change—some grow and mature, others weaken, unable to keep pace with the demands placed on them. In Grapes, Tom and Ma Joad become the work's heroes and moral centers. But we find that what is moral is not always what is lawful...and vice versa.

One of Steinbeck's most lyrical interludes is in chapter three—a turtle crossing a road. The episode is a wonderful image—a metaphor for the slow, plodding trek across country by the Joad family and thousands of others in search of sustenance. The chapter also reminds us of Steinbeck's power as a writer. This is a book to love and treasure—a must read.

See our Reading Guide for The Grapes of Wrath.

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