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Social Problems as the Background of People’s Feelings in John Steinbeck’s Novel “The Grapes of Wrath”

The background

John Steinbeck is a prominent American writer. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Grapes of Wrath. It was published in 1939. The novel tells about the life tragedy of American people. It is based on real events that took place in central states in 1937. It was the year of drought and crop failure. The author was a witness of the hard work of ordinary people. Moreover, they were not Mexicans who came for seasonal work, but citizens of the country whose rights were infringed. People’s lives and feelings are shown against the background of social problems after the Great Depression times.

Analysis of Social Problems Expressed in the Novel

The novel begins with the following words, “To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.” They show the problem that exists and lead the reader to the events connected with it. The picture of “the sharp sun” that destroys “the leaves of the young corn” intensifies the image. Also, it can be considered as a metaphor of society. The government is like the sun. It either gives strength to grow and is vital or burns mercilessly. Meanwhile, people can be compared with leaves. They “tilt downward” in their despair as their working potential is substituted by machines.

Instead of playing a positive role in people’s lives, the modernization of the agricultural process becomes a destroying factor. “The thunder of the cylinders sounded through the country, became one with the air and the earth, so that earth and air muttered in sympathetic vibration.” The machines are widely used. There is no need in workers, only in some of them who operate “the monsters” that have left hundreds of families without a piece of bread. Tractors submerged everything, even the drivers operating them. It is an irony over people’s destiny.

One more problem is a bank. It “isn’t like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either. That’s the monster.” It is a heartless creature that needs money only.

Such a severe situation leads to the following workers’ thoughts about their native land, “We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it.”

Plot Composition

The description of the tough social situation on the example of the Joads’ problems is the exposition of the novel. Tom is the protagonist of the novel. In spite of his age, he leads the family to a better life. They decide to move westward in search of a better life, just like other families.

The rising action is presented by a number of events. The first one is the acquaintance between the Joads and the Wilsons on the way to California. The death of the Joads’ grandpa is the next one. His wish to stay in native Oklahoma was almost accomplished. He dies on the first day of their trip. This fact also shows all the absurdity and senselessness of the life. He is buried near the road, though he deserves a better end. The families united by a common misfortune create the so-called small society with its rules, rights, and punishments.

The climax is the crime committed by Tom. He kills a stranger who has offended Casy.

The falling actions are presented by Tom’s hiding and the family’s attempts to earn some money for ill Winfield and pregnant Rose. Tom decides to change his life and becomes an agitator. Playing with her peers, little Ruthie reveals a secret about the murder committed by her older brother.

The denouement of the novel is presented by the fact that after losing the baby, Rose of Sharon tries to save the dying man’s life. In spite of any difficulties, the poor people help each other. Only poor people can understand and support each other in such situations.

Metaphorical Interpretation

Regarding the stylistic means used in the novel, a great metaphor is hidden in the title of the novel. It is taken from the Bible. All the trials that lay on the shoulders of the main heroes are like grapes. However, the burdens are shown as wrath. The grapes of wrath are inside everyone. People continue fighting, though they are disappointed and tired.

Moreover, Robert J. Griffin distinguishes tropes connected with two prevailing motives: machines and animals. He notices that very few metaphors, similes, and allusions are used in the text. With regard to the machines, metaphors are mostly used to show the difficultness of life, for example, “the sun as red as ripe new blood,” “the sun cut into the shade,” “red huge transport track.” There are also such animal tropes as “like draft horses,” “randy as a billygoat,” and so on. They are mostly connected with the people’s description.


The novel The Grapes of Wrath describes the tough life of the Americans after the Great Depression. It shows the attempts of society in fighting against socialism. The novel shows the ruinous effects of modernization that leads to the collapse of human lives. They remain without work and any means for living. Workers do not get any help from the government. They are just left. Despite the numerous hardships they get through, they manage to remain humane. They help each other to overcome the obstacles and punishment for breaking rules.

This novel is one of the most famous and prominent not only in American literature, but the world one as well. It teaches its readers to be kind and have the strength to fight for the rights.

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