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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - LSC-Kingwood

John Steinbeck


Published: 1939
The Grapes of Wrath examines the plight of the migrant workers by following the Joad family as they are evicted from their land in Oklahoma and travel to California to find work.  Hardship gradually decimates the family and they join forces with other migrant workers, fighting for dignity and working wages. Review a timeline of Steinbeck's work.

Original book cover, 1939 When the rain wouldn't come, and the crops couldn't grow, the winds still blew.  They were filled with the dry, infertile earth, which they arranged and rearranged in the time known as the Dust Bowl.  Farmers such as the Joads lost their farms to the banks.  Unable to figure out what else to do, they packed up and headed for California, the bountiful land with multiple growing seasons.  Although it sounded like the Promised Land, when they arrived, they found that they were part of a great migration and there wasn't enough work for the multitudes.

Growers in California needed the migrant workers in spurts, and felt no compunction to help them survive the rest of the time.  There were so many workers available that there was no need to give them a living wage.  When workers would strike, there were others to take their place.  If they were starving to death, the growers would rationalize that it was their own faults.

John Steinbeck grew up in California and witnessed the plight of the migrant workers, or Okies, as they were called because so many of them migrated from the dust bowl of Oklahoma.  He worked beside them, visited their camps, and traveled to Oklahoma as he researched the background. The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939,  won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.

One of the newish and exciting processes on the internet is the use of Google Earth for taking a literature trip. Take a trip with Instructor Jerome Burg to better understand Grapes of Wrath. Use Firefox for better connection. Select the download to Google Earth at Grapes of Wrath Lit Trip. (If you have problems, google "google lit trip Grapes of Wrath" Worth the time. The video shown at right follows the Dust Bowl - listen to the voice of one of the migrant workers from Oklahoma during this terrible time. 

Topics to Consider 

Librarian Talk . . . About Getting Started!

As you begin, narrow your topic to a size that you can manage.  Consider keywords that will help you find the information you need. These can be names of people, literary works, events, or broader identifying terms.  Use keywords for locating information in the library catalog, electronic databases, and on the internet. The topics below are for consideration only. 
More about choosing keywords (30 sec.)
Essential unity of man Forces of the times Importance of family
Oppression and hope Westward migration Poverty
Biblical parallels The Promised Land Hope and survival
Am I my brother's keeper Bigotry Women's strength


Literary Criticism may be found in books and journals. You will probably start your search with Reference Books.  They give you a feel for the types of criticism available.  Because they are often overviews, you might not find them appropriate to quote in your paper.


Search the library catalog for criticism on Grapes of Wrath and for background information on Steinbeck, the Dust Bowl and Migrant Workers. Use the Subject or Keyword searches.

Librarian Talk . . .About Books!

Many books are available both online and in the library. So much has been written about this novel, books will be one of your best resources.

Apply online for a library card. Use the barcode number from your Lone Star College ID or library card to:

1) Place a Hold on a book and have it sent to the library closest to you 
2) Access journal and reference databases from home, and
3) Access Online Book Database (eBook Collection).
  • The catalog is online.
  • Online books are available in the eBook Collection.  Use the barcode number from your Lone Star College ID or library card to log in. Search Steinbeck, then search inside the books using your keywords.
More about finding books (31 sec.)

Suggested Reference Books
PN41 .D5, vol. 9 & 212.  Dictionary of Literary Biography - Steinbeck's Life.  The influences of his life on Grapes of Wrath; the influences of Grapes of Wrath on his life.
PN50 .L574.  Literature and Its Times - Historical Background of the story.
PN771 .C59.  Contemporary Literay Criticism - Excerpts from literary criticism.
PN3385 .N68.  Novels for Students Good starting point.  Historical setting, themes, character descriptions, criticism.
PS129 .A55.  American Writers.- The development of Steinbeck's writing.
PS221 .T834.  Twentieth Century American Literature - Literary criticism, excerpts that can lead you to the whole article.
PS374 .C43 M35.  Major Characters in American Fiction - Character descriptions of Ma, Rose of Sharon, and Tom.

Librarian Talk . . . About Finding Journal and Newspaper Articles!
To find articles in newspapers and journals, letters, reference books, illustrations, photographs and more, use your Lone Star College System library card to login to the following databases.
If you find an interesting article that is not full-text, please give the correct bibliographic information to our Reference Librarians and they will see that you get the article. They will need full bibliographic information - and your name and address. Send your phone number as well, so they can contact you if they need to.
There is some overlap of articles in the following databases. However, we encourage you to use more than one. All are excellent sources for this topic. [Get a card]
More about searching databases (25 sec.)
Bloom's Literary Reference Online
          This database is a collection of critical essays discussing literature. These essays, originally published in print form, are accessible now for research online. Find information about The Grapes of Wrath or about John Steinbeck's life and his work. 
JSTOR Arts & Sciences
Search or browse the complete back issues for scholarly journal articles in literature, economics, history, social sciences, science and mathematics. The most current issue available is determined by publisher agreements and varies.
Project MUSE
Search and browse the full text of recent scholarly journals in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Literature Resource Center
Includes articles from Reference Books such as CLC and DLB, book articles from Twayne's American Authors, and some full text journal articles.  In the MLA section, it indexes many journals but most are not full text. 
Academic Search Complete
Index to journal articles, most full text.  


Librarian Talk. . . About Evaluating the Internet!
  1. Accuracy - The information should be researched and show proof that it has been.
  2. Source - Who wrote the information? Look at the domain.  .edu .gov. org .net are valid research sources.
  3. Authority - What are the author's credentials?  (Don't quote from another college freshman's paper.)
  4. Coverage - Does the page have the information you need for your research?
  5. Objectivity - If a work is biased, use it - just make sure your professor knows YOU know. And offer both sides of issues, where applicable.
More about finding internet sources (25 sec.)
Weedpatch Camp
History and pictures of Arvin Federal Government Camp, the prototype for Weedpatch Camp.
Grapes of Wrath
Chapter summaries, from Western Washington University
Steinbeck Timeline
by the Monterey County Historical Society.
Grapes of Wrath, NPR - NPR's site, audio, music, scene from film, and background information. Good place to begin.
Voices from the Dust Bowl
Interviews and photographs from the Library of Congress.
Pictures from the Dust Bowl
including a video of a dust storm in action.  From the University of South Dakota.
Librarian's Index to the Internet
Links to a variety of background information. Search Grapes of Wrath for links to several very good sites.

Getting Help for your Assignment

Librarian Talk...About Getting Help!
Support for a successful paper is more than finding the right resources. Putting it all together takes time and effort. Sometimes it takes additional help from the librarians or tutors. Please consider the following resources if you need additional help. Remember, the expert on the assignment is your professor; use the LSC-Online in-class email to contact her.
More about getting help (25 sec.)

Citing Sources Using MLA Style | Lone Star College-Kingwood Library guide. Examples of both paper and electronic citations.

Avoiding Plagiarism  |   Excellent information and guide on how to avoid plagiarism from the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.

University of Texas Copyright Crash Course | This helpful guide on copyright is suggested by Lone Star College-Kingwood Teaching and Learning Center.

The Learning Center   |   Check the TLC hours for in-house tutoring.

Page created 2/02 by Sue Goodwin, Reference Librarian.  Revised 4/2012 sm/jfr.

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