Allusion in The Grapes of Wrath

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine some examples of allusion from ''The Grapes of Wrath'' by John Steinbeck. This novel follows the Joad family as they lose their farm in Oklahoma to become migrant workers in California during the Dust Bowl.


In The Little Mermaid, Ariel's father, King Triton, rules Atlantica with a trident in his hand. In Greek mythology, Triton is Poseidon's son and is a messenger of the seas that also carries a trident. While many viewers pick up on this allusion, it is not explained in the movie. Allusion is a reference that an author makes to an event in literature or history that is not clarified, but leaves the reader to draw from his/her own experiences to determine its relevance. Let's look at some examples of allusions from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.


The title of The Grapes of Wrath is an allusion to the song, 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.' The first stanza of the song is 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword, His truth is marching on.' In this song, the grapes of wrath refers to corruption and hate that can only be stamped out by God. This contributes to the novel as the Joads face one obstacle after another that is seemingly impossible. They discover that they are better able to overcome these issues with the spirit of unity.


When Ma expresses her concerns about what they might find in California, Tom calms her with a quote. She asks if it is from Scripture, but Tom is not sure. He says, 'I never could keep Scripture straight sence I read a book name The Winning of Barbara Worth.'

The novel Tom is referring to was a bestseller by author Harold Bell Wright from 1911 that was later made into a silent movie. It is about a wealthy man who adopts an orphaned girl that he finds while travelling in Colorado. The book is meant to be a ministry with themes about corporate corruption and capitalism. By the end of the story, the father learns from his daughter to give back. This is significant to the novel because the theme of capitalism versus unity is explored in both novels.

Ma laughs that Tom confuses the Bible with another book because Pa frequently mixes up Dr. Miles' Almanac with Scripture. An almanac contains information about agriculture, weather reports, and astronomy. It is not exactly the moral lesson that Tom received from his book. In contrast, Pa's confusion is humorous.

Political Theorists

In chapter 14, the narrator pushes forward on the belief that the only thing that can save them is if the people are unified as one. People need to understand that political movements are the result of poor living conditions rather than the cause of them. The narrator says, 'If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive.'

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account