John Steinbeck’s book explores the lives of dust bowl refugees by way of the Joad family, a group from Oklahoma who lose their farm and move out West to California to find work. His book goes between the narrative of the Joads and the overarching discussion regarding the refugee’s conditions overall. Some of the themes he explores are the role of banks (33-34), machinery (38), hope (95-96), gender (112), unionization (156-57), business (161), foreign labor (243), racism (247), marxism (249), vigilantes and communities (296), and self-sufficient camps (300) among many others. The book works as a heavy-handed political discussion on what caused the Dust Bowl storms and how no one has opted to fix it up to the point in which it is written.
Steinbeck, a California native who saw the events of the Dust Bowl migration unfold before him, wanted to write on it with honesty (ix). He wrote for the sole purpose of being accurate to the times. He wanted people all over America to see these refugees and understand what drove them to do the things they’ve done. Whether or not he was successful is up to the historian.
Other points of interest: there were several mentions of bestiality; religion is complicated but apparently not entirely worth the hype; all refugees are painted honest and an inseparable part of their land; the book’s more generalized chapters almost read as a Communist Manifesto geared toward the refugees overthrowing business; the organized camps are almost idealized small communities; and the ending scene is still too loaded and odd to fully understand without outside analysis.
Woody Guthrie wrote a two-part ballad about The Grapes of Wrath, following Tom Joad’s journey.