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The Grapes of Wrath Essay Prompts on Religion

Instructor: Clio Stearns
~'The Grapes of Wrath~' is a major classic in American literature, and students will learn a lot from reading it closely. This lesson offers a series of essay topics related specifically to religion in the novel.

Teaching The Grapes of Wrath

If you have the opportunity to teach The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, you are in for a real treat. One of the great classics of American literature, this novel deals with complicated themes such as the capacity for reconciliation, the role family plays in a person's life, and socioeconomic status in American society.

Though The Grapes of Wrath is filled with compelling characters and plot intrigue, some students might be intimidated by its length and complexity. This makes it especially important to scaffold their relationship to the novel with careful, thoughtful assignments. One of the most important themes in The Grapes of Wrath is religion, and students will benefit from thinking closely about this theme. The essay topics in this lesson will help your students think critically about religion in The Grapes of Wrath.

Religion and Characters

This section provides topics that get students thinking about religion in relation to the novel's characters.

  • What role has religion played in Tom Joad's life, and to what extent is his morality informed by influences outside of religion? Describe how religion, or a lack thereof, makes Tom the person who he is.
  • How do Ma and Pa Joad differ in their relationships to religion, and how are their perspectives on religion similar to each other? How do their relationships to religion help you understand their characters overall?
  • Explain why Jim Casy gave up formal preaching, and what he says about how preaching influenced his relationship to religion. What does he do both implicitly and explicitly to critique formal religion?
  • What are some of the ways that Jim Casy remains deeply religious in spite of having given up preaching? What can we learn about Steinbeck's own relationship to religion through the morality, continued preaching, and actions of Casy's character?
  • How does Rose of Sharon change and evolve over the course of the novel, and what is the role of religion in impelling her character's evolution and acquisition of morality and grace?
  • What is Granma Joad's perspective on religion and way of communicating her religious belief system? What do you think Steinbeck shows about religion through Granma's character?

Religion and Plot

The topics in this section will help your students analyze religion in relation to the plot of The Grapes of Wrath.

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