The Grapes of Wrath


John Steinbeck

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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.

Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization

In The Grapes of Wrath, the most brutal adversity the Joads face doesn’t come from the unforgiving natural conditions of the dustbowl. Rather, the Joads and the Okie community receive the cruelest treatment from those most capable of helping them: more fortunate individuals, typically ones who wield institutional power. Throughout the book, establishments and technological advances are shown to corrupt the humans behind them. Steinbeck’s depiction of the state police shows that they’ve been perverted…

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Dignity, Honor, and Wrath

Despite their destitution, Okies are shown to be extremely conscious of maintaining their honor. No matter how dire their circumstances, the Joads are unwilling to stoop to accepting charity or stealing. When they do accept help, they are quick to repay the debt—for example, when the Wilsons offer Grampa Joad a deathbed, Al repairs their car and Ma replaces the blanket used to shroud Grampa. With this strong sense of honor comes an equally powerful…

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Faith and Guilt

At different times in The Grapes of Wrath, nearly all of the main characters endure spiritually trying times. Casy is the first to address this theme when he speaks of his reformed faith: instead of the black-and-white teachings of Christian dogma, Casy has come to believe in a natural unity of the human race. Tom, too, comes to this realization later in the novel, after hiding from the law in the woods. Finally…

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Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance

The novel often focuses on characters who resist in situations that seem hopeless. At the beginning of the novel, the Oklahoma sharecropper families are rendered powerless by the repossessing landowners. All the same, Muley Graves remains on his land, in spite of regular run-ins with law enforcement. He knows he can’t change his circumstances, but he refuses to let go of his heritage. The land turtle that appears in an early chapter, is a metaphor…

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Family, Friendship, and Community

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…

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