Ed. Notes- The first time I read "The Grapes of Wrath", was in 1952 and I was a high school junior. In today's vernacular, I Was "blown away" by what


John Steinbeck, Author

Ed. Notes- The first time I read "The Grapes of Wrath", was in 1952 and I was a high school junior. In today's vernacular, I Was "blown away" by what I read Being a native New Yorker, the book introduced me to a world and people that were foreign to me. Most of all, GRAPES was my introduction to the problems that had existed in our country during the great depression. Little did I know that in the ensuing years I would reread the book many times, and view the Academy Award film based on the book countless times. Here we are in the 21st Century and the book is as true today as it was when first written. Steinbeck's Oakies are today's refugees. California lacked a "fence", but if someone has his way Texas will erect one and Mexico will pay for it.

Be sure to click on Springsteen's picture to listen to The Ghost of Tom Joad.

Stephanie Kempf wrote a brilliant and timeless chapter for our teacher guide, and I beg you to read the following.

The Grapes of Wrath
By John Steinbeck
Penguin Books

581 Pages

John Steinbeck's novel is a landmark of American literature. Published in 1939, it is a moving and timely portrait of hardworking people and their struggle to preserve their humanity in the face of social and economic desperation.

The Joad family is forced off its beloved farm in Oklahoma by representatives of large land-owners and banks. Readers climb aboard the family's over-loaded, run-down truck and make the harrowing journey westward with them in search of the American Dream - a home, a piece of land to call their own, a job, peace and security. Each night, with little money and food, the family joins fellow migrants in recreating society on the road. Leaders are chosen, food and other necessities are rationed and shared with strangers, unspoken social codes are honored - privacy, generosity, cooperation. Rituals are maintained: loved ones are buried far from home, prayers are recited, babies are born and engagements celebrated. Relationships are either solidified or shattered. When the exhausted travelers reach California, instead of realizing their dream, they are forced to confront the same powerful forces - greed, oppression and injustice--which drove them from their homes.

This novel has been included in this program because it illuminates the root causes of hunger and poverty so clearly and poignantly. Its themes are even more relevant today than they were during The Great Depression: the emotional and social fractures that occur when people are disconnected from the land-their source of food and livelihood; the plight of the small farmer, the homeless, the unemployed and the politically disenfranchised; the disintegration of family and community; the bitter conflict between the powerful and the powerless; the crucial role of women in the family and society; the importance of a fair wage and meaningful work for all; the seeds of violence.

You may wish to begin by reading the first three brief chapters aloud in class. Have students pay close attention to Steinbeck's use of detail in describing characters and their surroundings. As they read it will be helpful if they jot down in their journals any lines or phrases that have particular meaning for them. These can kick off classroom discussions the following day. Whenever possible, encourage students to make connections among the Joad's story, current events in the news, and other lessons you have covered in your study of hunger.


When the book has been completed, or as particular sections are covered, show students the movie--or scenes from the movie. It can be found in video stores and runs 129 minutes. This film, in black and white, with beautiful and haunting images, was directed by John Ford in 1940 and stars Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.


Listen to and discuss: "The Ghost of Tom Joad" by Bruce Springsteen and/or "The Banks Are Made of Marble" by The Weavers.


Steinbeck's novel captures the horrors of The Great Depression. Have students research the forces behind the Depression, The Crash of 1929, the Dust Bowl, and the New Deal. Investigate local archives for photos and first person accounts. Interview local community elders for their family stories.


1. Imagine that you are Tom Joad. You have been away from your own home and family for four years. What changes would you expect to find upon your return? What would have remained unchanged?
2. How did the land become so poor and dusty?
3. Discuss the following passage. Find passages in the novel that contrast with this description of how the land was viewed: Behind the tractor rolled the shining disks, cutting the earth with blades-not plowing, but surgery, pushing the cut earth to the right where the second row of disks cut it and pushed it to the left; slicing blades shining, polished by the cut earth...And when the crop grew, and was harvested, no man had crumbled a hot clod in his fingers and let the earth sift past his fingertips, no man had touched the seeds, or lusted for the growth. Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under-iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses.
4. What did the land mean to Muley and the Joads?
5. Tenant farmers got to keep a very small portion of the crop they grew on the landowners land. They could use this to feed their families or to sell. How do you feel about this line by a large land-owner: (Is this progress?)
6. What does the tenant farmer mean when he asks: How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?
7. In small groups role play tenant farmers trying to convince large land-owners to allow you to keep your farms.
8. Why do you think the bank was called "the monster"?
9. Why did so many families have to leave their homes? Do you have any suggestions on how this could have been prevented? What will be the consequences of this uprootedness? What will be the consequences of a few wealthy land-owners holding onto the land?
10. If you were forced to leave your home and town and could carry only five items with you on the road, what would you choose? Explain.
11. How do think you would react if you and your family were forced to leave the land where your grandparents and great-grandparents have lived, worked and died?
12. What did the government camps provide that made them so attractive to migrant families? Is there anything of value here that could have been duplicated in other camps?
13. Why do you think Steinbeck chose the title The Grapes of Wrath?
14. Do you find any significance in the fact that the author began his story with drought and ended it with a flood?
15. Reread Chapter 3. How does the story of the turtle relate to the rest of the story?
16. Discuss or write about what may have happened to Muley, Noah, Connie or Tom.
17. What constitutes "ownership"? In Chapter five a tenant farmer says: ...it's our land. We measured it and broke it up. We were born on it, and we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it's no good, it's still ours. That's what makes it ours--being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it. (See also This We Know by Chief Seattle in Lesson 10)
18. What are the social and environmental consequences that result when most of an area's best land is used to produce only one crop such as grapes, cotton or oranges?
19. What was the Joad family's dream? Talk about your own family's dreams. Do you think the Joad family (and your family) will achieve that dream?
20. Interview a farmer in your area about the plight of the small farmer in America today. Compare his/her story with that of the Joads. Call your local Farm Bureau or visit a local greenmarket to find a farmer who will visit your classroom or invite you to visit the farm.
21. What were Casy and the other "reds" trying to do for the workers? Do you agree or disagree with their goals and tactics? Why do you suppose Tom decided to take on Casy's work?
22. "Hoovervilles" was the word used for encampments of migrants during The Great Depression. These camps were named after Herbert Hoover who was President at the beginning of the Depression. Discuss the conditions inside these camps. How does the plight of the migrants compare with that of today's homeless? refugees of war? communities where large companies have shut down or moved? developing countries where most of the best land is used for growing cash crops? workers who are not allowed to unionize?
23. Do you see any connection between the Joad's story and the story of the Native Americans?


1. Collect a few artifacts that remind you of your home. If they are small, bring them in to share with the class. Talk about your connection to them. If they are too large, write an essay describing them and their importance to your personal history and identity.
2. Notice Steinbeck's use of detail for making a character or place come alive for the reader. Find a favorite place inside or outside your house. Sit quietly and observe for several minutes. Close your eyes and absorb what you hear, smell and feel. Write in your journal your impressions, observations, feelings and any overheard conversations that relate to this place. Give as many details as you can in your description of the place so your audience can "see" it. Describe your relationship to this place.
3. Reread Steinbeck's description of grandpa. Observe a member of your family (or focus on a photograph of a family member) and, using words, paint a clear and colorful portrait of that person. Include the person's favorite sayings, gestures, habits, hairstyle, clothes, language, etc.--anything that makes that person unique. Compare a personal experience with something experienced by one of the characters in the novel.
4. Choose a character from the book and a particular event. Write an interior monologue from that character's perspective. For example, what was Muley thinking as he watched the Joad's truck pull away for good? What was Rose of Sharon feeling when she realized Connie had left her?
5. Write a poem about exile--being forced to leave the land or home you love. If you wish, choose three characters from the novel and write each stanza of your poem in a different character's voice. Find other poems of exile and bring in to read.
6. Why is it so important to put down roots? Choose a family photograph (or story) that you feel encapsulates a lot of your family history. Bring your photo or story to class and talk about it in your small group. Write an essay describing it and how it explains your roots.
7. Write an ending to this story. What happens to the Joads? What happens to Tom? Muley? Rose of Sharon?
8. After a discussion of Casy and his mission to help the workers, write about a time in your own life when you tried to make a difference.
9. Reread Tom's discussion with his mother about Casy in Chapter 28. Tom decides to take up Casy's cause: ru be aroun' in the dark. I'll be ever'where - wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, ru be there. If Casy knowed, why, I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an' - I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build - why, I'll be there.

Some teachers have asked students to engage in simple "subversive" acts as a way of connecting with Tom and Casy. This can be a very exciting and inspiring activity, HOWEVER, be sure students know exactly what is expected and just how far they can go with this assignment. If you decide to do this with students, inform parents about what is being asked of students and how this connects to your hunger-study. Students may choose whether or not to participate. You may decide collectively to perform a local boycott or protest. Discuss the meaning of subversive--"to undermine the principles of corruption." Obviously, there are various degrees to which subversion can be carried. For this assignment students should be aware of simple, everyday opportunities for subversion. These acts may be small, but they often carry dramatic consequences and sharpen our awareness of injustices around us.

Some examples of simple subversive acts performed by students are: standing up for someone who is oppressed, discriminated against or mistreated; choosing to do what you believe is right instead of what may be popular; getting to know someone who has been ostracized by your group of friends. Ask students to be aware of simple opportunities for undermining corruption or injustice that present themselves regularly. You may wish to share a subversive act you have engaged in and how you felt afterward. After students have performed their simple subversive acts have them write about them, then share their experiences with the class. How did the act make them feel? What were the immediate consequences? Would they do it again? Some classes have collected these in an album and placed it in the school library for others to read.
11. Create a comic strip, visual or poem based on one of the themes from the novel (the uncontrollable forces of Nature, the "American Dream", the tyranny of machines, the security of home, life on the road, etc.)
12. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast this story with "Maria's Dream" in Lesson 5.

The Ghost of Tom Joad
Bruce Springsteen
(Reprinted by permission)
Men walkin"long the railroad tracks
Goin' someplace there's no going back
Highway patrol choppers comin' up over the ridge
Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge Shelter line stretchin' around the corner Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin' in their cars in the Southwest No home no job no peace no rest
The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad
He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a-drag
Waitin' for when the last shall be the first and the first shall be
the last
In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass
Got a one way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and a gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin' in the city aqueduct
The highway is alive tonight
Where it's headed everybody knows rm sittin' down here in the campfire light Waitin' on the ghost of Tom Joad
Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Whenever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me"
Well the highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes rm sittin' down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of Tom Joad

Stephanie Kempf

Setphanie Kempf, Author of KIDS Teacher Guide

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Bruce Springsteen

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