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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

12. Migrant

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Activities: Author Activities

John Steinbeck - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: Acts of charity and compassion occur from time to time in The Grapes of Wrath. Examine the scene near the end of Chapter 15 concerning the bread and the candy. Why did Steinbeck include such scenes in a novel that is often intent on showing American cruelty and social injustice?

  2. Comprehension: Steinbeck's novel includes many images of the horrific condition of the land and juxtaposes them with images of the horrific social conditions brought on by industrialization and business. What is the purpose of such juxtaposed images?

  3. Context: The Grapes of Wrath is sometimes referred to as a jeremiad: a lament of the spiritual and moral decline of a community and an interpretation of recent misfortunes as God's just punishment for that decline. (See Unit 3 for more discussion of this form in the American literary tradition.) Paradoxically, these misfortunes are seen as proof of God's love and of the group's status as a "chosen people." Do you think this novel fits well within that genre? Why or why not?

  4. Context: Compare Chapter 11 of The Grapes of Wrath with the many Dust Bowl images in the American Passages archive. How do these photographs compare to Steinbeck's descriptions of the land?

  5. Exploration: In his essay "Freedom from Want," Carlos Bulosan writes, "We are not really free unless we use what we produce. So long as the fruit of our labor is denied us, so long will want manifest itself in a world of slaves." Review the literary elements of slave narratives (focus on food and water, fear for the family, variations of hope and hopelessness, dehumanization, power and powerlessness, and the desire for education). Think about the ways that Steinbeck's novel about migrants compares and contrasts with the slave narratives of the nineteenth century. What qualities do they share? What are some differences?

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