John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath: Voice and Vision

After the Civil War, a legion of farmers and their families settled in the prairie states of the American Great Plains. These fiercely independent, hard-working, determined “pioneers” suffered various setbacks in the first two decades of their settlement but a large majority had ridden out discouragement and continued to work the land, holding tightly to the dream that had brought them there.

Fast-forward to the years 1931 – 1939. Images from chapter one of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, encapsulates the story of that dream turned nightmare.

The suggested lessons and activities that follow aim at helping students build a framework, from various perspectives of the 1930s, in which to embed a close study of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. They offer suggested approaches for explicating the text of the novel, shaped by several goals: strengthening and expanding students’ skills of analysis; fostering student awareness of specific ways the novel reflects the environmental, economic, political and social climate of the Dust Bowl/ Great Depression decade; and promoting recognition of the strong parallels of 1930s environmental, economic, political and social issues defined in the novel with current issues in America. The lessons and activities also examine derivatives built from The Grapes of Wrath and encourages students to build their own derivatives.

Images from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, encapsulate the story of a dream turned nightmare
The Dust Bowl turned fertile topsoil of the American Great Plains into huge clouds that blotted out the sun
No other period in American history had suffered the unexpected economic downslide that occurred in the fall of 1929
Buried in dust, distraught and displaced, thousands from the prairies of the American Great Plains headed west to California
The disasters that hit America in the 1930s brought upheaval in the political spectrum as well
One of the most innovative divisions of the WPA was a cultural arts program to generate jobs for unemployed artists
Documenting the impact of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl
Steinbeck’s book is one of the most discussed novels in the American literary canon, generating both wide acclaim and wide denunciation
Songs of this “Dust Bowl Balladeer” are counterparts of Steinbeck’s and Lange’s documents of the imprint of the disasters on American life
The disasters of the 1930s would redefine the roles both Hollywood and radio would assume in American life
Great classics spawn derivatives and, in the case of The Grapes of Wrath, some become celebrated classics in their own right
Capturing the thought-provoking messages and poetic dimensions of The Grapes of Wrath in operatic form proved daunting

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