Tone and Theme in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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The novel, The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, is set in phenomenon of the major dustbowl that hit southern states in America in the early 1930’s, causing intense drought and loss of agricultural production. The Joad’s, living in Oklahoma, are one of the several families dealing with the complications of the dustbowl, and in search of work and a better lifestyle, migrate out west to California.

Upon reaching California however, the family is severely disappointed. They face discrimination, poor living conditions, lack of food and work, and the hot California sun. Steinbeck uses continuous tones of passion and sadness to reflect the ever-changing living conditions and mentalities of the Joad family. Steinbeck also uses the theme of unity and strength in response to the hardships the Joad family is able to overcome throughout the entirety of the novel. The tone of passion is carried throughout the book in varying sections, mixing in with the tone of sadness.

The Joad’s move to California, seeking peace and prosperity. Along the journey the family endures several setbacks but learn to overcome them and continue to persevere. “If we can get work it’ll be fine.” (Chapter 17, pg. 199). The Joad’s are confronted by a father and son returning from California, warned about wait awaits them when they arrive: discrimination against migrant men and being called “Okies”, and the wastefulness of ranchers with “a million acres.” However, the Joad’s still continue their journey to the west, confident in their survival as long as they can find decent work as “migrant men”. Furthermore, the Joad’s stay positive in their survival through their belief in Jesus Christ, while also.

“I pray God we gonna get some res’, I pray Jesus we gonna lay down in a nice place.” (chapter 18, pg. 217). They keep faith in the lord and his ability to keep them safe. The family continues to strive for success, even after hearing the cautionary tales of those who have experienced and warned the Joad family about the unforgiving life in California. The family’s eventual prosperity in California came from their previous struggle in Oklahoma, using it as determination to make their new life worthwhile. Additionally, the tone of sadness and depression is also heavily present in the novel. After being released from a four-year prison sentence for being convicted of manslaughter, Tom is welcomed home to the now dry and drought-stricken Oklahoma.

Neighbors tell him of those moving out west, causing the state of Oklahoma to become almost ghosted. The idea of leaving the land behind worried the Joad’s, especially Grampa Joad, whom was so distraught about leaving his land, had to be drugged in order for the family to get him to migrate to California with the rest. The family was practically forced to leave the land, or the land would leave them dead. “Well we’re here. This here’s California, an’ she don’t look so prosperous.” (Chapter 18, pg. 203)

The Joad’s are faced with the reality of life in California, and it is nothing of what was promised to them by the handbills. As the story progresses, the family goes through a whirlwind of obstacles and emotions, and suffer from both devastation and deprivation while in California. Steinbeck implies the tone of sadness to emphasize on the devastation caused by the dust bowl, and the hindrance it had on migrant families. Though the Joad’s are confronted with many obstacles and hardships, they continue to have faith in each other and find strength in their unity.

Steinbeck carries this theme vigorously through the plot development and storyline of ‘The money we’d make wouldn’t do no good… All we got is the family unbroken. Like a bunch a cows, when the lobos are ranging, stick all together. I ain’t scared while we’re all here, all that’s alive, but I ain’t gonna see us bust up.” (Chapter 16, pg. 169). Ma Joad exemplifies how all they truly need to survive is a strong family bond. They stand beside each other in dark times, and with the other migrant workers, who face discrimination and rejection from California natives.

Steinbeck uses a mixture of themes and tone to give an overall feel of the novel: hardships can be overcome with passion and the loyalty of those around you. This controversial novel shows the raw lifestyle of the devastation caused by the severity of the dustbowl. Steinbeck wanted to create a storyline that could be understood, but also impactful to those who read it, and slightly contradict the glorified “American Dream”. He accomplished this through his unique themes and scattered tones, as well as significant imagery and symbolism.

Cite this paper

Tone and Theme in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. (2021, Aug 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/tone-and-theme-in-the-grapes-of-wrath-by-john-steinbeck/



What is the main conflict in The Grapes of Wrath?
The Grapes of Wrath is about the Joad family's struggles as they migrate west during the Dust Bowl. The family faces many challenges along the way, including poverty, disease, and prejudice.
What is the theme in The Grapes of Wrath?
The Grapes of Wrath is a novel about the Dust Bowl migration in the United States during the 1930s.
What is the tone of John Steinbeck?
The tone of John Steinbeck is hopeful and optimistic.
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