The Grapes of Wrath - Essay Questions

  1. Analyze Tom Joad’s growth throughout the novel. Despite the fact that Tom is not a young boy, does the novel have the characteristics of a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story? 
  2. Jim Casy and Tom Joad have been seen as Christ-like figures offering humanity a transcendental escape from the pains of the world. Do you see parallels between Casy and Tom’s sacrifices and messages and those of Christ? Why or why not?
  3. Discuss Ma Joad’s role in the novel. How does her personality help to keep the family intact? How does Steinbeck’s characterization of Ma work within the novel’s larger sociological structure?
  4. Perform a close reading of any passage or short chapter in the novel, examining its use of theme, setting, tone, figurative language, allusions, etc. How do the individual elements work within the passage? What does this analysis reveal about the work as a whole?
  5. The Grapes of Wrath is the last novel in Steinbeck’s labor trilogy, following In Dubious Battle and Of Mice and Men. How do the political themes in Grapes differ from or extend those in the earlier works?
  6. Considering Steinbeck’s interest in biology, what aspects of the novel explore scientific or ecological themes?
  7. How does The Grapes of Wrath fit the template for Western novels? Does it subvert the traditional Western model made popular by novels and films?
  8. Discuss the purpose of the intercalary chapters within the larger context of the novel. How do these chapters shape the novel thematically?
  9. How does The Grapes of Wrath operate as a proletarian, political novel? What social changes does the novel suggest will help implement its philosophy?
  10. Describe the Californian landowners’ attitudes toward the migrant farmers. How does their prejudice parallel other forms of discrimination? What does the novel hope to achieve by depicting the landowners in this manner?
  11. Characterize Rose of Sharon. How do you reconcile her self-absorption through much of the novel with the way her pregnancy ends and her decision to breastfeed the staving man in the final scene?
  12. What is the novel’s attitude toward the American Dream? Has it been threatened by the dehumanization of the migrants or reconstructed through Casy and Tom’s efforts? 

Setting | Character SummariesPlot Synopsis | Reception
Cultural References | Key Terms and Concepts | Major Themes