Pastures of Heaven - Essay Questions

  1. Steinbeck opens with the story of Bert Munroe.  Bert supposed he was cursed, but when he moved to the Pastures of Heaven he feels the curse has been lifted.  Steinbeck hints that Bert's curse, and the Battle farm curse might breed and spread through the town.  Do you believe that there was a curse on the valley?  Is the curse responsible for what happens in the residents' lives?  Why or why not? 

  2. Bill Whiteside seems to represent a break with the traditional view that a farm will pass from one generation to the next.  Does Bill represent the new generation accurately and does he reflect the new lifestyle people in the early twentieth century were seeking?  How?

  3. Are readers intended to feel a sense of loss at the end of the Whiteside story in chapter eleven?  Why or why not?

  4. Is Junius Maltby a good father or a bad father?  Do you see him as a bad influence on his son or a good influence?  Junius is seemingly ignorant of the fact that his lifestyle made him an outcast in the community.  How does this break with what people would consider normal cause his demise?  What do you see as the real reason he felt he had to return to the city?

  5. Why do you think Molly Morgan refuses to face the reality that her father might be alive and living in the Pastures of Heaven when all she ever wanted as a child was him to return?

  6. What do you see Richard and John Whiteside's meerschaum pipe representing?  Do you see any parallels with the Whiteside house?

  7. Why does Helen Van Deventer decide to kill Hilda?  Do you see it as a burden that she must relieve herself of, or does she kill Hilda because the pain of her husband's death leaves her and she needs to fill the void? 

  8. Does Pat's broken dream of courting Mae Munroe relegate him to a life of being haunted by his parent's memory?  How might Pat escape the oppression of his past?

  9. Are the Munroes the reason for all of the hardship experienced by the valley's residents?  How do you see Bert?  Does he play the role of the antagonist in this book, or are the characters themselves responsible for their own problems and failings?

  10. Do you think Bert's conversation with Raymond changed him?  Why do you think Raymond changed his mind about attending the execution? 

  11. How does Steinbeck characterize the treatment of the mentally ill in the text?  What does the text say about society's attitude towards those who do not fit the conventional mold?The farms in the Pastures of Heaven say much about the people who own and work them.  Consider the Munroe, Whiteside, Humbert, and Maltby farms.  What can we infer about the families/characters based on their farms?