Chapters 1 – 4
Joad released from McAlester State Penitentiary after serving four
years for manslaughter returns to a barren Oklahoma barely recognizable
to him. There has been a prolonged drought and the crops have failed
and turned to dust and have been blown away together with the topsoil
to form a desert land. This area was to be known as the Dustbowl.
He meets up with Jim Casy, a former preacher who is returning from
a sojourn in the "wilderness," where he has been soul-searching.
Tom invites Jim to walk with him on the dusty road to the Joad family
farm, and to stay for dinner.
Arriving there, he sees that "the small unpainted house was mashed
at one corner, and it had been pushed off its foundations so that
it slumped at an angle." The farm was deserted. Muley Graves, a
near-by tenant farmer, tells Tom that his family has moved to their
Uncle john's house: " . . . They was going to stick it out when
the bank come to tractorin' off the place." A long drought was making
barren ground out of what had once been fertile farmland.
chose this subject for the Grapes of Wrath because he felt it was
important to tell the tale of the Dustbowl and its victims and this
is the main theme throughout the novel. This severe act of nature,
the drought, the wind and the loss of crops with their topsoil have
forced the farmers to migrate from certain starvation to an unknown
The story is a mix of plot narration and almost documentary fact
telling of the historical and social factors in 1930's Oklahoma
and the fruit and cotton fields of California. So we follow the
Joad family through various traumas and also get an insight into
the bigger picture of mass migration.
The book is full of emotion and Steinbeck provides a sensitive touch
through the description of the characters and their misfortunes.
This is against the background of the dirty, squalid and unpleasant
existence they have to endure.
Steinbeck sometimes goes over the top in sentimentalizing the sometimes
too good to be true characters. He has them portrayed as heroes
in an attempt to rouse the reader's sympathy for the Joad family.