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Personification in The Grapes of Wrath: Examples & Meaning

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

What is personification? How does it come into play in ''Grapes of Wrath''? If you are wondering about these questions, or if you have an assignment to explore personification, you're in luck. In this lesson we will take a straight-forward approach to understanding personification.

Personification

Personification is when someone describe a nonhuman by using human characteristics. For example, if you imagine an elephant walking across a small bridge, you might say or write that bridge groaned under the weight of the elephant. Since the bridge obviously doesn't have vocal chords we know that it can't really 'groan,' but using this language can help a reader or listener picture the scene. Personification also helps convey the mood.

The Wind and the Corn

From the very beginning of The Grapes of Wrath, John Stenbeck uses personification to help us connect with the story. When the narrator describes the drought and how the crops were destroyed, we get the following line (it's a long one--but trust me, it's good):

The wind 'dug cunningly among the rootlets of the corn, and the corn fought the wind with its weakened leaves until the roots were freed by the prying wind and then each stalk settled wearily sideways toward the earth and pointed the direction of the wind.'

Can you spot where something that isn't human is being described with human characteristics? When the wind is described as cunning, this is personification because the wind does not truly have the ability to plan and use deception.

The next part of the sentence says that the corn 'fought the wind.' This is also an example of personification because the corn is not consciously choosing to resist the wind. Saying that the corn fought against the wind adds some drama to the description of the weather.

The Screaming Wheels

Another example of personification in The Grapes of Wrath comes when the narrator is describing the journey of a turtle trying to cross the road. At one point, we read that,

'A sedan driven by a forty-year-old woman approached. She saw the turtle and swung to the right, off the highway, the wheels screamed and a cloud of dust boiled up.'

Can you spot the example of personification in this sentence? When the narrator tells us that 'the wheels screamed' it is a solid example of personification. The wheels cannot actually scream, but describing them this way gives us an idea of the sound of the tires screeching on the highway.

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