The Grapes of Wrath

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Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Theme Icon
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Grapes of Wrath, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon

Time and again in The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck demonstrates the profound ties and nuanced relationships that develop through kinship, friendship, and group identity. The arc of the Joad family shows, on one hand, a cohesive unit whose love and support of one another keeps them from abandoning hope. On the other hand, however, the novel shows that this unity comes with complications. Ma Joad’s assertive leadership strips Pa of his masculine identity, and he is ashamed and embarrassed whenever his wife’s determination forces him to back down in front of the entire clan. The cooperation and mutual assistance found in the Joad family extends past blood relationships to other Okies as well. This give-and-take of friendly support among the Okies is essential to all of the Okies' survival, including the Joads. Just as Wilkie Wallace helps Tom find work, the Joads are happy to assist friends they meet on their way to California, like the Wilsons.

On a larger scale, a united community confers its own kind of benefits: political strength. On several occasions, Tom marvels at how the government camp can function without police. The camp’s Central Committee is a testament to the power of cooperation; its system of self-governance allows residents to regulate themselves and discipline wrongdoers without sacrificing the camp’s independence. Working together not only gives Okies a way to avoid the prejudice they meet in California—it also gives them power to unionize and push for reasonable wages. Despite the vicious persecution of union leaders, many Okies remain committed to the concept of working together to improve their condition. As an endorsement of collaboration, Steinbeck writes, “here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep…men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. … The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one.”

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Family, Friendship, and Community Quotes in The Grapes of Wrath

Below you will find the important quotes in The Grapes of Wrath related to the theme of Family, Friendship, and Community.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.

Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

After a devastating dust storm that ruins the hard-earned crops grown on Oklahoma farms, the women and children mentioned in this passage worry that the fathers and husbands will feel "broken" by their struggles. They look to these men to set a standard for how to respond: the patriarchal structure of the family is not really questioned throughout the book, although some of the men do struggle with how to live up to the expectation that they be strong and powerful. 

The men, however, react with wrath rather than disappointment or brokenness. As a result, the women and children perceive them as still "whole": they have gained agency through their strong reaction and thus commit themselves to combating this difficulty, as well as any others that may arise. As the book begins, therefore, it at once shows anger to be a powerful, and potentially powerfully good, trait, one that can equip people like the Okies, who lack a great deal of social, economic, or political power, with a different kind of strength.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

“…sometimes a guy'll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.”

Related Characters: Tom Joad (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom Joad is traveling home after being released from prison, and here he is trying to cajole a truck driver into giving him a ride, even though the truck bears a sticker that reads "No Riders" on it. Tom appeals to the driver's sense of decency and community, one that for Tom exists between fellow inhabitants of the dusty Midwest. This community, he implies, has nothing to do with the centralized, powerful corporation that attempts to dictate how things are run far away. 

Tom thus makes a strong distinction between the "rich bastard" that holds the money and power, and the "good guy" that may be more economically vulnerable, but makes up for it by emphasizing his goodness and humanity. Of course, these lofty sentiments have a more practical side as well, since it's in Tom's interest to have the truck driver give him a ride, but the passage is also a legitimate example of the way Tom attempts to claim greater dignity for himself and those around him in general.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“I says, ‘Maybe it ain't a sin. Maybe it's just the way folks is. Maybe we been whippin’ the hell out of ourselves for nothin’.’…Before I knowed it, I was sayin’ out loud, ‘The hell with it! There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing. And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that's as far as any man got a right to say.’”

Related Characters: Jim Casy (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom Joad has met Jim Casy, a former preacher who believes that he baptized Tom long ago. Casy tells Tom why he left the church: he had been sleeping with girls in his congregation until he began to feel wracked with guilt. Here he explains to Tom the progress in his thoughts concerning his own actions and their relationship to his faith. He does feel that he betrayed the girls' trust, but he also cannot accept that his attraction to them was fully sinful. This realization has made him feel that there cannot be such black and white categories as "sin" and "virtue." Instead, he thinks that there is a more gray area in terms of how humans should act, a gray area that is so complicated that mere humans shouldn't claim to be able to pronounce without doubt what is right and wrong.

Still, Jim Casy's reasoning is clouded by a sense that what he did cannot be entirely excused. His exclamation, "The hell with it!", expresses his frustration with the categories that are available to him, as he searches for meaning that would be more satisfying than the empty-seeming rules and dictates of his religion.

“maybe it's all men an’ all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit—the human sperit—the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a suddent—I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.”

Related Characters: Jim Casy (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jim Casy continues talking to Tom about his struggle with his faith, he strikes a more positive note as he searches for an alternative to the strict categories of sin and virtue that he has long since decided are insufficient. He continues to make use of some of the terms and beliefs that were part of his arsenal as a preacher, but here he uses the idea of the Holy Spirit, for instance, to describe something different than the figure in the Bible. Jim Casy instead develops a notion of an all-encompassing sense of humanity, a community that all can be a part of, and a community defined by love rather than guilt. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

“I ain’t sayin’ I’m like Jesus…But I got tired like Him, an’ I got mixed up like Him, an’ I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin’ stuff…Sometimes I’d pray like I always done. On’y I couldn’ figure what I was prayin’ to or for. There was the hills, an’ there was me, an’ we wasn’t separate no more. We was one thing. An’ that one thing was holy.”

Related Characters: Jim Casy (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Granma has asked Casy to say grace with the family before they can begin eating. Casy's rigorous Christian belief system has long since eroded, but even as he lacks a confidence in his own faith, he still finds the structures of the religion to be a reference point that gives him a way to process how he acts and what he does. As a result, Casy's grace is rambling and sometimes confusing. He draws on the famous Bible story of Jesus going into the wilderness to pray, and being tempted by demons, to help him explain his own struggles with temptation and his own distancing from society.

Once again, however, Casy attempts to turn to an alternative to the strict catechism of Christianity, one that emphasizes community and common humanity over personal striving. This sense of community is what Casy continues to think of as "holy," even if it has little to do with traditional Christian beliefs. It is ironic but also significant that Casy uses grace - a short ritual that for most people is just something to get through before a meal - as an opportunity for real spiritual questioning.

Chapter 9 Quotes

To California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness. And some day—the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and there'll be a dead terror from it.

Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

The perspective of the book has switched, in this chapter, to tenant farmers preparing to leave for California, and to one in particular who is disillusioned by the process of selling his belongings: his tools are now useless because of new technology, and he feels that he himself is now just as useless. California is treated by some in the book as a marvelous land of opportunity, a place to recover some of the agency and stability that the tenant farmers have lost in Oklahoma.

This farmer, however, begins to feel as though California is not just a random choice but a useless one. Wherever he and his fellow farmers go, he believes, they will be pursued by the sense of hopelessness that has defined their work up until now. If there's any sliver of hope left, it's in the fact that there are so many people like this that they make up "armies of bitterness," a group of people bound by shared experiences even if those experiences are desperate.

Chapter 10 Quotes

“It ain't kin we? It's will we?” …As far as ‘kin,’ we can’t do nothin’, not go to California or nothin’; but as far as ‘will,’ why, we’ll do what we will. An’ as far as ‘will’—it’s a long time our folks been here and east before, an' I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked. They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean.”

Related Characters: Ma Joad (speaker)
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

The family has begun to debate whether or not Casy will be allowed to come with the Joads to California. At first Pa Joad isn't sure, but soon his wife begins to overrule him. By making a distinction between "can" and "will," she reminds her family that so many of their struggles have been based on a seeming impossibility of "can": that is, a sense that they don't have the material means to gain power over their own situation. 

However, precisely because their capabilities are so uncertain, Ma Joad believes that it is crucial to express their will in whatever they can - to commit to certain actions regardless of whether they might seem impossible or hopeless. For her, these actions must align with certain values that are defining traits of the family, including kindness and generosity. By referring to her and her husband's ancestors, Ma Joad reminds her family of their long heritage in Oklahoma, and how these families have countered the economic and social fragility of their lives with the dignity and responsibility that comes from emphasizing community.

Chapter 12 Quotes

The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.

Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

For this chapter, the narrator has zoomed in on the experience of one migrant family in particular. A crooked salesman, knowing that they are desperate, tries to sell them a tire for an exorbitant price. After refusing and continuing to limp along with a broken trailer, the family finally enlists the help of another driver and manages to arrive to California. As a result, this family's experience is a typical reminder of the various ways that humans can treat each other, some of which include acting as though other people are simply instruments of one's own power and wealth. Other attitudes, though, value strangers as fellow travelers and fellow humans.

The narrator thus stresses that it is impossible to extract any one conclusion from the struggles of these migrant farmers, apart, perhaps, from the inherent complexity and inconsistency of humanity. Still, we also see in this passage that the families are desperate enough to leave behind the "terror" of their past life that they will cling to "beautiful" things more than "cruel" ones. The small examples of kindness and community will have to be enough to enable them to persevere on their journey.

Chapter 13 Quotes

“We’re proud to help. I ain’t felt so—safe in a long time. People needs—to help.”

Related Characters: Ivy and Sairy Wilson (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

Granpa has just died, and the family is making preparations to bury him on the own. Earlier, the Joads had met a couple, the Wilsons, whose car had broken down, and after initially exchanging tense remarks, Tom's appeal to their common humanity had helped to ease the situation. Although Granpa's death has happened only shortly after their meeting, the Wilsons now feel close enough to the Joads to want to help in whatever way they can, in order to maintain Granpa's dignity even in a fragile situation. Friendship and community, this passage suggests, may be just as fragile, but they can also be powerful signals of common humanity. Indeed, as Sairy implies here, the act of helping another can be a positive force even for the person who offers assistance.

Chapter 14 Quotes

Fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.

Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator is describing the changes taking place in the West as a result of the influx of migrant farmers, some of whom are fighting for better wages and work quality. The narrator suggests that what they are really fighting for, however, is a sense of dignity and respect that the landowners involved refuse to give them. What is called the "concept" is this broader motivation behind the fight for change: while specific, material desires stir people onward, it is the belief in certain broader values that really defines humans and convinces them that a better life is possible. 

This process of change and perseverance is only possible, it's suggested, when a group of people bands together, so that life becomes not just a question of the individual I, but of humanity or "Manself" all together. Indeed, it is this community of strivers that defines what humans are and can be.

Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other…the danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one.

Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

After detailing the desires of humans fighting for greater dignity and banding together in communities in order to do so, the narrator turns to the enemies of these communities: the landowners and corporations who care little about the lives of these people who are so less powerful than themselves. The narrator frames the differences between these two groups in the form of rhetorical "advice" that he gives to those in power. While it is important for workers and the poor to express their common humanity through community, for those in power the opposite is necessary: they must continually break down the bonds of common humanity in order to prevent real change from happening. 

To do so, the narrator suggests, those in power must turn individuals against each other, encouraging them to suspect and harbor ill will towards each other. As a result, they will be able to maintain their own power over others just as they break down the dignity of those over whom they rule.

Chapter 17 Quotes

At first the families were timid in the building and tumbling worlds, but gradually the technique of building worlds became their technique. Then leaders emerged, then laws were made, then codes came into being. And as the worlds moved westward they were more complete and better furnished, for their builders were more experienced in building them.

Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

The Joads have joined one of the many camps that have sprung up where migrant workers making the same journey as they stop for the night to rest. These moments are initially fraught with tension. The travelers don't know each other, for the most part, and recognize that they are all going in pursuit of the same jobs, so they could consider each other as natural competitors. However, this is not what happens. Instead, they begin to band together in makeshift communities. 

The narrator describes the building of such communities almost as if he were describing the historical development of society out of individuals and smaller units: indeed, in many ways the journey west recalls the more monumental historical journey of humans through time. Initially, these groups are rudimentary, but over time they grow more complex. While the novel is certainly critical of some complex social organizations, landowning corporations among them, this passage shows that not all communities have to be ruthless or small-minded. Instead, those in charge of creating bonds between people can learn from their mistakes through time, and work in support of human connection rather than against it.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“They's a time of change, an' when that comes, dyin' is a piece of all dyin', and bearin' is a piece of all bearin', an bearin' an' dyin' is two pieces of the same thing. An' then things ain't lonely any more. An' then a hurt don't hurt so bad, cause it ain't a lonely hurt no more, Rosasharn. I wisht I could tell you so you'd know, but I can't.”

Related Characters: Ma Joad (speaker), Rose of Sharon
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Granma seems to be losing her mind, as she starts speaking incoherently and imagining that her husband is there with her. Rose of Sharon is worried about her, and here Ma Joad attempts to reassure her. She does so by making an appeal to the larger forces that structure human life. Giving birth, bearing children, and dying are all part of the same process, she says, and it is impossible to have one without the other. Ma Joad takes solace in this vision of death, because it suggests that we are not alone - that what seems frightening, unknown, and lonely to us in fact fits into a broader meaning.

Ma Joad does seem to have developed her own beliefs about life and death beyond what her Christian heritage has taught her. Instead, she draws on all that she's learned regarding the ability for humans to come together in a community. This community might be fragile, but she continues to believe in it enough for it to structure her beliefs.

Chapter 19 Quotes

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout this chapter, the narrative zooms in and out, focusing first on the larger history behind those who owned and took over the land in the West, and then on the specific experiences of the Okies who are forced to move west because of the selfishness and greed of the landowners. Here, the narrator suggests that these landowners are blind to this cycle of history. They think themselves exceptional because of their powerful grip on others weaker than they are, because of their ability to erase the dignity of their workers. But the narrator points out that the desire to rebel against unjust power never goes away: it is a defining fact of human history.

Through these powerful lines, Steinbeck suggests that the story he is writing is only one part of a bigger history. His characters may seem desperate and constantly dehumanized, and their experiences may be in some ways unique, but in other ways their lives fit into a narrative about progress, resistance, and struggle for human rights and recognition. The book itself might not include any revolutions or even political battles, but these remain in the background, relevant to everything else that happens.

Chapter 22 Quotes

“We ain’t never had no trouble with the law. I guess the big farmers is scairt of that. Can’t throw us in jail—why, it scares ‘em. Figger maybe if we can gove’n ourselves, maybe we’ll do other things.”

Related Characters: Timothy and Wilkie Wallace (speaker)
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom has befriended more people who are savvier regarding how to navigate the difficult and sometimes dangerous terrain of farm work. Together, though, Timothy, Wilkie, and Tom have learned from Mr. Thomas about the Farmer's Association's plans to stir up trouble at the camp so as to be able to bring in the police. Here Timothy expresses frustration that even the smallest signs of community creation and of self-sufficiency among the migrant workers, such as appointing their own leaders and managing some of their own affairs, are looked upon as threatening by those in power above them.

For Timothy, those in power are frustrated that they cannot use the one biased tool at their disposal - the law - to oppress the workers, since they are not breaking the law. Any degree of independence among these workers is looked on as a possibility of further resistance or rebellion, one that must be immediately quashed.

Chapter 24 Quotes

“They're gettin' purty mean out here. Burned that camp an' beat up folks. I been thinkin'. All our folks got guns. I been thinkin' maybe we ought to get up a turkey shootin' club an' have meetin's ever' Sunday.”

Page Number: 345
Explanation and Analysis:

A man at the dance tells Pa about a story he heard concerning another group of workers, this time outside Ohio. These people also wanted to fight for better wages and living situations, he says, but they were barred at every turn. Finally, in a symbolic show of force, thousands of them took their rifles and marched through the center of town on their way to the turkey shoot, before marching back - and since then they haven't had any trouble. The man suggests that even if force will not get them anywhere that peaceful protest hasn't, it might still be an effective political move for the workers to show that they do have strength in numbers, even if the gesture is largely symbolic. He suggests that by mounting their own "turkey shoot," the workers might be able to assert their own dignity as well as their closely-knit community in a way that might send a powerful message to their bosses. 

Chapter 25 Quotes

The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quick-lime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Page Number: 349
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage describes what happens when there is a good harvest and too much food is left over after the expected supply is picked and dispatched. The business owners don't want there to be too great a supply, or else prices will go down and they'll risk losing money. For them, it is even too much a business risk to allow the farmers to collect the food that remains for their own use.

This refusal seems to change the businessmen's actions from a merely shrewd business strategy to an attitude meant precisely to dehumanize the workers, to emphasize their powerlessness at the hands of those who hire them. The workers are indeed forced to watch the potatoes, oranges, and pigs be destroyed, without being able to do anything about it. It is this sense of despair, and not only the shocking gap between the overabundance of food and the hungry, weak farmers that are responsible for picking it, that makes the "souls of the people" so heavy. The final line of this passage gives the book its title. The sentence uses a metaphor of wine vineyards, appropriate given the cultivation work of these migrant workers, to describe a growing feeling of despair and anger among them. Like the grapes that grow heavy as harvest approaches, these workers too are building up their wrath to an unknown but inevitable point in the future at which they will no longer be able to stand what they are forced to experience.

Chapter 26 Quotes

“Learnin' it all a time, ever' day. If you're in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people. They're the only ones that'll help—the only ones.”

Related Characters: Ma Joad (speaker)
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:

Because of the unjust business strategy of the owners, which means that the Joad family is making even less money than before, Ma is forced to ask the shopkeeper to lend her money for the food she needs. The shopkeeper agrees, but this apparent show of generosity is a deceitful façade: the shopkeeper has inflated the prices at the store to take advantage of the workers' desperation, and it is in his best interests to keep people like Ma Joad dependent on him. 

Ma Joad seethes with anger, as she is forced yet again to reckon with the fact that even people who occupy the same general community as she does can too often be cruel and calculating. She realizes that the family must carefully weigh whom to trust and whom to remain suspicious of. One possible way of judging such a test, she decides, is poverty: even though poor people have less to give, Ma Joad has learned that they tend to be more compassionate and understanding, more willing to forge bonds of community than those who, paradoxically, have more. 

Chapter 28 Quotes

“But now I been thinkin' what he said, an' I can remember—all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an' he foun' he didn' have no soul that was his'n. Says he foun' he jus' got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain't no good, 'cause his little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn' think I was even listenin'. But I know now a fella ain't no good alone.”

Related Characters: Tom Joad (speaker), Jim Casy
Page Number: 418
Explanation and Analysis:

Tom's secret is out, and he will now have to flee the camp in order not to be caught and punished for his crime. As Ma Joad generously gives him much of her savings, they talk about what Tom will do next. The book has come a long way from its beginnings, with Jim Casy's rambling remarks on what he learned since deciding to leave his position as preacher, but it turns out that Casy's words have actually had an enormous impact on Tom - even though even Tom didn't realize that he was affected by them at the time.

Tom too is in search of a bigger, more meaningful community, and he is struck by the recollection that for Jim Casy, isolating oneself in the wilderness is actually no guarantee of goodness. Instead, Tom is convinced that he must try to work with others to enact change. Like Casy, Tom is developing an alternative to the official catechism of the Christian faith he was born with, attempting to understand how humans relate to one another and how they might better connect.

Chapter 29 Quotes

And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right—the break had not come; and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath.
Tiny points of grass came through the earth, and in a few days the hills were pale green with the beginning year.

Page Number: 435
Explanation and Analysis:

The beginning of The Grapes of Wrath had described a severe drought in Oklahoma that was devastating for the farms and those who worked on them. Now it is the opposite, a flood and not a drought, that strikes fear once again into the hearts of the women. And here, once again, their fears are assuaged by realizing that their husbands and fathers have chosen anger over fear: for them, this sentiment ensures that they will continue to act, rather than being broken and rendered passive by what has happened to them.

The end of this passage suggests that even the darkest times eventually give way to something better. The imagery has to do with the cyclical process of nature, but it also recalls the Biblical story of the great flood, which washed away human sin and allowed humanity to begin again. Perseverance, for these workers, does not mean that they will suddenly become successful or that their problems will be magically resolved, but there is some solace to be had in the knowledge that they will live to see even slightly better days.