Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favorite novels. I can’t recall how many times I’ve read it. I know it isn’t all that uplifting and it still brings a tear to my eye and it makes me very angry at times. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Steinbeck’s novel is about the Joad family during the Great Depression. They are kicked off their land in Oklahoma and they load up the large family and head to California where they hear laborers are needed in the fields. Once they arrive, they learn that all the promises were misleading and they have to fight for their survival. It’s a heartbreaking story.

This novel is taught in American high schools and in college. I know I had to read it for at least two college courses. I no longer remember if I read it in high school, but I doubt it since it seems we didn’t read many books at my high school. I’m always amazed when The Better Half mentions all the books they read in school. I went to a bad school, I think.

One of the reasons I love this novel is Steinbeck’s writing. His characters are well-developed and likable. He has a way of making me feel like I’m right in the midst of the action and I can visualize everything. And I love his descriptions of the land. Steinbeck has a wonderful sense of place. Not only do I see the land, but I can smell it and sometimes I can almost taste it.

Also, I’m a history nut. If you want to understand how devastating the Great Depression was, read this book. Even though the story takes place in the 1930s, readers today may be able to relate since poverty is still prevalent, as is othering the poor and making them out to be the bad guys. Governments and society still do not have a solution to poverty and that fact is depressing.

During this reread, I read the copy I used for one of my college courses. I must have written a paper on this book back in the day and I highlighted the heck out of this copy. It was fun to see my notes in the margins, but I couldn’t figure out what my paper focused on. In school I was a history student and wrote many, many papers. I no longer have copies of all my papers so I guess I’ll never know what the topic was. I’m pretty sure it tied into the land since I went crazy with those passages.

When Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962, this novel was mentioned. It really is a great book and I highly recommend it. If you don’t like large books, then I suggest Cannery Row. But I do recommend that you read at least one work by Steinbeck. He’s fantastic.

This is the 85th book I’ve read from my 1001 list. Currently I’m reading Amsterdam by Ian McEwan.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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60 Responses to Book Review: The Grapes of Wrath

  1. niasunset says:

    You are amazing reader as being amazing writer, dear TBM. 85th book and will be 1001 at the end of this year, isn’t it? This is wonderful book review, for a beautiful novel and classic one of course. I love Steinbeck… I don’t remember how many time I read it too. Thank you dear, love, nia

    • TBM says:

      He has always been one of my favorites. His characters, his descriptions, and his dialogue pull me in each time and I always find something new to marvel over. Thanks Nia.

  2. Colline says:

    This is not a book I have read yet. Need to remember this title.

  3. have seen movie I know…”Henry Fonda”??? but, haven’t read…they say book is better…I’m sure it is!

    • TBM says:

      Oh the movie is a classic as well. For years I didn’t watch it, since I thought it would be a letdown. it wasn’t. Fonda is amazing in it and I loved he woman who played Ma, but can’t remember her name. I’m partial to the book so I do think it’s better than the book.

  4. I am ashamed to say that I have never read The Grapes of Wrath. I think the only Steinbeck I have read is Of Mice and Men, which I read when I was a kid, probably for school. Maybe I should add Grapes to my every growing TBR list. What do you think?

    • TBM says:

      Of Mice and Men is on the 1001 list. I haven’t read it yet for the challenge, but read it years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed freely. Yes, you should add this one to your list of 1089! I guessed at the number and I’m sure it’s much higher!

      • Well, it’s probably pretty close to that LOL! Ok, I’ll add it to the list :). Oh, and by the way, I am now officially mother of the year after braving the extreme cold for the midnight release of Call of Duty Ghosts last night! I’m going to do a post about it I think because I got some funny pictures of people waiting in line. We had a blast! Need lots of pop today for the caffeine :).

      • TBM says:

        I forgot that it was last night. Is he still playing? Can’t wait to read the post and see the pics!

      • He played from 1am-5:30am, slept until 8am, and is up playing again. They must have known at the school that a lot of guys would be absent today because when I phoned, they asked if he was sick or if it was “parent approved”. LOL!!

      • TBM says:

        What did you say? Parent approved–that wasn’t an option when I was in school.

      • Yes, I started laughing and said parent approved. He’s in Grade 12 and getting fabulous marks and even got an award yesterday, so I have no problem letting him take a day off :).

      • TBM says:

        And he’ll remember it for a long time.

  5. biblioglobal says:

    I read this one for high school and it was one of my favorite assigned books. But I’ve recently realized that I remember embarrassingly little of what happened in it. How can I have liked it so much and remember so little?

    • TBM says:

      Don’t be embarrassed. I loved many books I read earlier this year and couldn’t tell you much about them now. When you read a lot, it’s hard to keep track of every story.

  6. Beth Ann says:

    I don’t think I have ever read that one. I think that I have missed out on a lot of the classics OR I have forgotten reading them. That is the great thing about books. You can always read them again and discover parts that you missed the first time. Or in my case—you can reread it and find it is all new since the memory is not so great. 🙂 Great review!

  7. aFrankAngle says:

    85 down is great! Carry on!!!!

  8. bocafrau says:

    I think, I mentioned this before – right when we first moved here I had to read Of Mice and Men… It was pure torture for me because my grasp of the language just wasn’t there yet and I had to look up every second word in the dictionary. I really need to make myself a list of the classics and start reading them one by one.

    • TBM says:

      I wish I could read in another language and I admire you. I forget, how old were you when you moved to the States? I felt that way when I had to read The Little Prince in French–that test wasn’t my best grade and for sometime I refused to read the book in English since I had such a bad experience. Now I love the Little Prince, but I’m glad I don’t have to translate it every again. And I can no longer read French–that part bums me out. All those classes and I let it slip away.

      • bocafrau says:

        I was 16 when I came here. And I know exactly how you feel, I was able to read, write and speak French and Russian to some extent when I came here but by not using it and not be able to take higher classes than what was offered here in school I lost most of that. The Russian doesn’t bother me too much bit the French really does – it’s just such a beautiful language.

      • TBM says:

        French is beautiful and now we live so close to France it would really help. I bet Russian would be a tough language, but I would love to read Tolstoy in his native language. More than likely, that won’t happen. It’s so hard to keep languages fresh in the mind.

  9. Rachael says:

    I read The Grapes of Wrath in high school also but have never had the desire to pick it up again. However I recently watched Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl. I enjoyed that a lot and it referred to The Grapes of Wrath several times. You might like it if you’re interested in that time in history.

    • TBM says:

      I haven’t seen this documentary. I loved his Civil War series and saw bits and pieces of his Jazz one. Actually, I didn’t know he made one about the Dust Bowl. Thanks for telling me–I need to add it to my rental list.

  10. It’s incredible to have reached your 85th book—-and how fascinating to reread the copy from college. I would have enjoyed looking back on my notes, as well!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • TBM says:

      Luckily my list has 1001, so I still have many more books to go. I love a good challenge. My notes were funny to read and I spent probably too much time trying to determine if my handwriting has improved.

  11. StillWalks says:

    Heartbreaking indeed – one of the most power novels I have read! It is a long time since I read it but one of My favourite bits was the descriptions of listening to, feeling, sensing the workings/life of the vehicle they took out west.

    • TBM says:

      yes, the truck plays such a big role in the novel and it’s just as important as the main characters. He does a wonderful job with his descriptions and bringing it to life.

  12. Jo Bryant says:

    mi ignorance is showing…never read this one either

    • TBM says:

      I doubt it’s ignorance. This book is part of American curriculum. I’m sure there are many important authors from New Zealand and Australia that I haven’t read. I’m hoping they are on my list, though.

      • Jo Bryant says:

        So here are some kiwi books.
        The Bone People/Mr Pip/The Whale Rider/Once Were Warriors/ What Becomes of the Broken Hearted/In My Father’s Den…anything by Maurice Gee or Janet Frame. As for the Aussie contingent…Picnic at Hanging Rock/Seven Little Australians/My Brilliant Career/My Brother Jack/The Harp in the South/For The Term of His Natural Life/ I Can Jump Puddles/Power Without Glory/ The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith [amazing book]/We of the Never Never.

      • TBM says:

        You see, now my ignorance is showing. I haven’t read any on either list. Must correct that! And thanks so much for the lists. Love the title, I Can Jump Puddles. Miles has been doing that a lot lately. So much rain here. Our park is one muddy pit and he loves playing fetch in the mud. I really appreciate this!

  13. pattisj says:

    I should have read this book by now. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. I’m much more of a watcher than a reader, but I must say, you write very compelling reviews and if I were a reader, I would want to leaf through this classic. I saw the film and thought Henry Fonda was terrific as Tom Joad. I checked your film list, but didn’t see it on there — and I’ve seen practically everything on that list. But the list you’ve posted doesn’t appear to be complete. Question: how do you determine the order of what you will read, watch or country that you visit? Maybe you’ve spelled that out somewhere on your site and I missed it.

    • TBM says:

      For the movie list, I’m using AFI’s top 100 list that was released in 2007. I’m watching them from 100 to 1. I’m almost halfway through it. As for the books I’m reading novels from the 1001 books you must read before you die. There isn’t an order that I’m following for that. It all depends on what I own and what I can get from the library or from the charity shops. And the countries all depends on how much time and money we have. So the only part of the challenge that I’m actually sticking to a “list” is the movies. The rest is put together as best as possible. Hope that helps.

  15. The Guat says:

    Dude! 85th…congrats my friend. Sounds like you’re chipping away. Good for you. 🙂 I’m barely on three…

    • TBM says:

      Hey it’s not a competition. I’m just happy that people are reading, no matter how many. And besides, your little ones keep you pretty busy.

  16. I hadn’t read this book for many, many years and funnily enough I re read it over the summer. It really moved me and sadly, so many of the issues raised in the book are still commonplace today – some things just don’t change.

    • TBM says:

      That’s what really gets to you…the times have changed, but not the issues. Such a shame. And I hate blame the poor game that a lot of governments and people do.

  17. Vishy says:

    Beautiful review, TBM! Liked it very much. It is wonderful that ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is one of your favourite books. I have read only one book by John Steinbeck, ‘Of Mice and Men’, which I liked very much. I will add ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ to my ‘TBR’ list. Nice to know that you are reading ‘Amsterdam’ now. Will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. I opened some old boxes and I took it out sometime back. I am hoping to read it soon.

    • TBM says:

      I think you’ll like Steinbeck’s descriptions in Grapes of Wrath. And I’m about halfway through Amsterdam and I’m enjoying it. Much more than his novel, Saturday, which is also on the 1001 list. Thanks so much Vishy!

  18. Steinbeck is my all-time favorite author. He’s so great at capturing the plight of humanity and all that jazz. The structure of Grapes of Wrath is remarkable in the way one chapter will focus on the Joad family and their journey to California, and then the next will take a distanced view as he will describe the larger picture of what has happening to people. It makes the novel simultaneously intimate and distant, which says so much about how we interact with each other on many levels. Some argue that the ending where Rose of Sharon feeds the hungry man with her breast milk after her baby died doesn’t offer closure, but I felt it was fitting. On the surface Steinbeck’s work isn’t uplifting, but in a way it is since writers like him shed light on issues most of us otherwise would never really truly know or understand without his guidance.

    • TBM says:

      I remember way back when one of my college professors said that Steinbeck added the extra chapters since he thought it wasn’t just enough to describe the Joad’s plight. That he wanted the reader to really connect with what was happening and you know, he was right. It was a brilliant move and I like your insight that it adds some distance. Many of us do that when we are uncomfortable and don’t know how to solve a problem. Thanks for sharing that.

      Funny story about the ending. Years ago I suggested this book to The Better Half since it’s one of my faves. The other day when I finished my reread TBH picked up the book and then said, “The ending is different in your copy.” I was puzzled since I read the same copy. Turns out the last two pages were stuck together, but I was super impressed by TBH’s memory. It was over eight years ago when I gave the recommendation. The ending sticks with a reader and for that reason I think it’s brilliant.

      What’s your favorite book by him? I’m leaning towards Cannery Row, but I haven’t read all of his works yet so that may change.

  19. This book is one of my all-time faves. I felt like I was with the Joad family the whole time.
    Congrats on 85!

  20. We had a paper on American Literature in my MA and I think we did this along with a few others.

  21. Caroline says:

    I really want to read this as well. I’ev only read his Cannery Row so far. twice bacuse I liked it so much. It’s the size that held me back so far. I’m sure I’ll love it. Funny to come across old notes, isn’t it?

    • TBM says:

      I have a habit of writing in the margins of my books or underlining. Basically, you should never loan me a book 🙂 I don’t do this with library copies, though. I think you would really like this, especially since you liked Cannery Row. I loved that novel. I didn’t like Sweet Thursday (the sequel) as much, but Cannery Row is wonderful.

  22. Fergiemoto says:

    85!! Pretty cool!
    I’ve read Of Mice and Men, and I have the Grapes of Wrath but haven’t read it yet.

  23. Yaaayyy! I just bought a copy of “Grapes of Wrath” on flipcart.
    Hope I get the time and inclination to read it at one go…

  24. applenpear says:

    I read this book in high school and loved it though most of my classmates didn’t. Your post makes me want to reread it along with East of Eden.

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