The Grapes of Wrath Study Guide

The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck

Tom Joad, on his way home from being paroled for homicide, meets old friend Jim Casy. When he arrives at his family farm, it's empty, and his family is loading everything onto a truck: their farm was destroyed by the Dust Bowl, and they are leaving for California, having seen the pamphlets that promise high wages there. Though he breaks his parole to do so, he decides to leave with them, as does Casy.

On the way, they meet dozens of others in exactly the same circumstances, and wonder if they made the right choice. Still, they have nothing left but hope, so even in the face of the deaths of Grandma and Grandpa Joad and the departure of oldest son Noah, they must continue.

When they get there, there's no money to be had due to an oversupply of labor and no worker's rights. The government, spurred by the Franklin D. Roosevelt's 'New Deal', has set up the Resettlement Administration to care for the needy, but they don't have enough money to go around. The Joads and their friends and allies the Wainrights and the Wilsons share the same simple but unattainable dream: a job and a house for themselves and their children.

In response to exploitation, workers form unions. The family work unwittingly as scabs, and the strike they are breaking turns violent, killing Casy and forcing Tom to kill again, making him a fugitive. He disappears, never to be seen again.

As the story closes, Tom's sister Rosasharn (Rose of Sharon), who was pregnant at the start of the story, has her baby stillborn, but uses her mother's breast to feed a starving man who cannot eat solid food, saving his life in the one single not-futile act in the entire novel.

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