Extended Metaphor in The Grapes of Wrath: Examples & Meaning

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 define extended metaphors and examine some examples of extended metaphors from John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath,' a story about a family during the Great Depression.


In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Dementors are the terrible creatures that drain others of their peace, hope and happiness. In reality, the Dementors represent the terrible effects of depression. By implicitly comparing these monsters to a disease throughout the series, Rowling is using an extended metaphor. An extended metaphor is when two things that are not alike on the surface are compared to each other over several sentences, paragraphs, or chapters of a story or poem. Let's examine some examples of extended metaphor from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.


All of chapter three is devoted to the struggles of a turtle trying to cross the dusty road. Two vehicles happen by and see the turtle, but their responses are very different. The first car is driven by a woman. The narrator says, ''She saw the turtle and swung to the right, off the highway, the wheels screamed and a cloud of dust boiled up…. And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it.'' The turtle is a metaphor for the hardships that are faced in a person's life. When someone is struggling, some people will go out of their way not to make things worse for you. There are others who will go out of their way to hurt you for sport. Still others, like Tom, will pick you up and carry you to safety.


When the dust comes during the Dust Bowl, it touches everything-- the air, the sun, and the stars. This overwhelming dust cover becomes a metaphor for the uncontrollable things that happen in life and force us out of our comfort zones. After Tom Joad is released from prison, he arrives at his family's farm to find it empty. Muley, a neighbor who explains to Tom what has happened to his family, says, ''Dust comin' up an' spoilin' ever'thing so a man didn't get enough crop to plug up an ant's ass. An' ever'body got bills at the grocery.'' The economic hardships caused by the dust forced the Joads from their home and onto the road to California where they hope to find new opportunities.

Dust storm
Dust Bowl


The term ''monster'' is used to describe the banks and finance companies that took over the land when people were no longer able to pay their bills. The narrator writes, ''If a bank or a finance company owned the land, the owner man said, The Bank--or the Company-- needs--wants--insists--must have--as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them.''

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