The Joad family leaves Oklahoma in search of work after their farm is destroyed by the Dust Bowl. They arrive in California only to find that fair jobs, food, and sympathy are scarce.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
This speech, made by 32nd President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt (served 1933-1945), addresses the problems of the Great Depression and the "Dust Bowl" of the 1930s—during which severe drought and erosion conditions led to a prolonged agricultural crisis.
Have students read this text before beginning the novel as background information on the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Pair “Excerpt from ‘On Drought Conditions’” with The Grapes of Wrath and ask students to compare how both texts frame the destruction of this environmental crisis, and to consider how, historically, the U.S. responded to this crisis.
In "The Great Depression," Kubic explores the causes and effects of the Great Depression, as well as the economic reforms that resulted from this era.
Have students read this text before beginning the novel, in order to provide them with historical background on the period the novel is set in. Pair “The Great Depression” with The Grapes of Wrath and ask students to discuss the poverty and desperation of the period. How does this manifest later in the conditions depicted in Oklahoma, on the journey to California, and in the Hoovervilles camps?
Arthur Chapman was an American journalist who wrote the imagery-laden poem "Out Where The West Begins" in 1917, in response to some Western governors who were having a dispute over which American states should be considered "the West."
Share this poem with students after they have read Chapter 10, in order to introduce them to the cultural concept of “The West” as part of the American imagination. Pair “Out Where the West Begins” with The Grapes of Wrath: Chapter 10 and ask students to compare how the poem and the migrants in the book describe the West. How have Americans pictured the West throughout history and why?
Gary Soto begins this poem with a line from Shakespeare's The Tempest to delve into the harsh reality of death and how it is dealt with.
Introduce this poem to students after they have read Chapter 13 of the novel, in order for them to draw thematic connections through a cross-text analysis. Pair “The Tempest 4.1.156-8” with The Grapes of Wrath: Chapter 13 and ask students to consider the presence and portrayal of death in both texts — how do the harsh descriptions of death contribute to the larger picture of the novel?
In "The Coeur d'Alene Miner's Uprising," two newspaper articles detail the 1892 Idaho miner's strike over unfair labor practices that left five people dead.
Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 24 to provide them with a historical reference for comparative analysis of the novel. Pair “The Coeur d’Alene Miners’ Uprising” with The Grapes of Wrath: Chapter 24, and ask students to consider any similarities between the miners’ uprising incident and the events that take place between Chapters 22-24 in the novel. How does union agitation, infiltrators and outside interference influence these protests, uprisings and planned riots?
In "I am the people, the mob," Carl Sandburg showcases the power of collective protest to incite change.
Introduce this poem as a pairing on the shared themes of anger and injustice after students have read Chapter 25, in which the titular “grapes of wrath” are mentioned. Pair “I am the people, the mob” with The Grapes of Wrath: Chapter 25 and ask students to discuss the angry, righteous tones of both texts and how they contribute to the themes of injustice and wrath.
In "Serving in Florida: Excerpt from Nickel and Dimed," author Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the first steps and early struggles in her social experiment.
Introduce this text after reading Chapter 27, in order to draw contemporary and historical comparisons on employment and wages in the United States. Pair “Serving in Florida: Excerpt from Nickel and Dimed” with The Grapes of Wrath: Chapter 27 and ask students to compare the Joad family’s search for fair living and working conditions with Ehrenreich’s experiment as a modern minimum-wage worker. How does the Joad family’s experiences support Ehrenreich’s argument that the working class are undervalued?
In this rousing 1984 speech to the Commonwealth Club of California, Cesar Chavez describes the horrible working conditions for Mexican farm workers in America and calls for change.
Introduce this text after finishing the novel to help students examine the plight and concerns of migrant workers through a contemporary and historical analysis. Pair “Address to the Commonwealth Club of California” with The Grapes of Wrath and ask students to discuss the conditions migrant workers face, both in the novel and real life. Which characters in the novel, if any, resemble Chavez in his desire to organize and empower the workers?
At the height of the Great Depression, Huey P. Long, a Louisiana senator, delivered this famous speech in which he denounced the rich and argued to "scale down the big fortunes."
Introduce this text after students have completed the novel, in order to provide them with insight into the political debates surrounding wealth and workers’ rights during the Great Depression. Pair “Every Man a King” with The Grapes of Wrath and ask students to analyze the speech and compare its ideas to similar points in the novel, like Jim Casy’s efforts to build a union and his pleas with the policemen in Chapter 26.