Point of View in The Grapes of Wrath

Instructor: Rachel Hanson
In this lesson, we learn about different points of view in 'The Grapes of Wrath,' how we come to focus mainly on Tom Joad, and why Steinbeck shifted point of views in the intercalary chapters.

Point of View in The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck wrote the Grapes of Wrath with various points of view. In the Joad narrative chapters, the narrator is an omniscient one, meaning that she sees everything and knows every thought and action of each character. In the intercalary chapters, which are ones that break up or pause the main narrative, the narrator changes. Sometimes the narrator is, again, omniscient, but sometimes the narrator slips into the first person point of view, such as the used car lot owner in Chapter 7.

Although the point of view changes, one thing we come to understand in the Joad narrative chapters is that Tom is the character we focus on the most. We can surmise that Steinbeck played around with point of view because it allowed him to convey valuable information, often historical, without being held to a Tom, Ma, or even a car lot owner's perspective for the entire novel.

Tom Joad Point of View

Even though Tom Joad is not the narrator in The Grapes of Wrath, he's a character that we are drawn to and are most interested in. He is who we primarily focus on. Just think of Chapter 26 when Tom leaves the Hooper ranch boundaries to find out what's going on with all the people camped outside of the property. We know he's been with the family, that's he worked all day, and that Hooper ranch seems a dangerous place.

We are not surprised when Tom decides to investigate as he does in the following quote: ''Tom's feet sounded softly on the dusty road, a dark path against the yellow stubble. He put his hands in his pockets and trudged along toward the main gate. An embankment came close to the road. Tom could hear the whisper of water against the grasses in the irrigation ditch. He climbed up the bank and down to the water and saw the stretched reflections of the stars.''

From this passage, we can infer that Steinbeck's narrator is guiding us along with Tom, so we see what he sees, hears what he hears, and although we don't follow his thoughts play-by-play, we understand that Tom is after answers and that he distrusts the guards at Hooper ranch. Given the poor treatment the Joads have suffered in only a day at Hooper ranch, we share Tom's unsettled feeling about the place.

Tom's unsettling feeling turns out to be justified, and just as at the beginning of the novel, we come to learn of how violence finds Tom. Because it has been established that Tom acts passionately against injustice, when he strikes and kills Casy's murderer, the narrator doesn't have to give us Tom's character. We already understand that he will not have liked what he had to do but believes it's what had to be done at the moment. Steinbeck doesn't have to give his reader the character of Tom because he's developed him so completely that, even with an omniscient narrator, we feel we know Tom thoroughly.

Intercalary Chapters Narrative Point of View

A broken down jalopy, much like the ones described in Chapter 7

In Chapter 7 of The Grapes of Wrath, our narrator opens up with a description of a setting, which is fairly standard of these chapters. However, we are quickly taken aback when we don't get the empathetic narrative voice we are used to in the other intercalary chapters. Instead of reading a description of the land and the suffering of those who depend upon it, we are greeted with the jarring voice of a used car lot owner.

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