Quotes About California in The Grapes of Wrath

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

Steinbeck's classic novel 'The Grapes of Wrath' is based on the reality of mass migration to California during the 1930s after the farm area of the Great Plains turned to into the so-called Dust Bowl. Quotes about California reflect the meaning of this migration.

Based on Truth

The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family as they attempt to salvage some sort of life by migrating to work in the fields and groves of California. Many families followed this path during this sad period in American history. Like these real families, the fictional Joads must migrate because the soil of Oklahoma, their home for generations, along with much of the Great Plains was turned into dust and blown away by three waves of severe drought during the decade of the 1930s.

The Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl

Combined with the economic conditions of the Great Depression, tens of thousands of families set out on the road to the West, most headed to California. The warmth and abundance of this western state began to take on the role of a Promised Land. The fictional Joad family is a literary representation of the many families who left behind everything to place all their hopes on better conditions in California.

The Myth of California Life

The Joad family in Steinbeck's novel, like many actual families from the dried up areas of Oklahoma and Texas, determines early in the narrative to head to California. Tom Joad, having been in jail and out on parole, arrives at the family homestead just in time to accompany the family. Grandpa, the Joad patriarch, expresses the hope that California holds for the desperate migrants.

''Gonna get me a whole big bunch of grapes off a bush, or whatever, an' I'm gonna squash 'em on my face an' let 'em run offen my chin.'' (p. 90) The dream of abundance and a better life leads the Joads to join the stream of refugees on the road to the west.

Grapes in Abundance
Grapes in Abundance

Though work is the ultimate goal, the idea of picking fruit for work takes on an unrealistic tone of ease and plenty. There are Biblical overtones of the Israelite refugees following Moses to the Promised Land. The practical, realistic Ma Joad is skeptical of such a promise.

''I'm scared of stuff so nice. I ain't got faith. I'm scared somepin ain't so nice about it.'' (p. 97)

Still, their crops are gone and the farm has been foreclosed by the bank. California seems the only option.

Ma Joad says, ''It ain't kin we? It's will we... As far as 'kin.' We can't do nothin', not go to California or nothin'; but as far as 'will,' why, we'll do what we will.'' (p.110) Perhaps Ma is recognizing that, in spite of the uncertainty of the move west, there really are no other options.

On the Road

As the Joad family travels in the truck that now serves as their home, they encounter others in similar circumstances who also have tales of California. Some, like the Joads, have not been there yet and rely on rumors and propaganda flyers for their idea of the promised good life. Others have already been to California and are on their way elsewhere, disillusioned by the lack of work and the scarcity of decent accommodations.

One returning Midwesterner tells them a part of the true story: that men and their families are so hungry they will show up to work for pennies, and the men growing the crops take advantage of their desperation. ''The more fellas he can get, an' the hungrier, less he's gonna pay.''(p.209)

The oldest son of the family, Tom, newly released on parole, begins to fear that the promised land of California is only a dream. Yet what else can they do?

Desperation and No Options

The family keeps on heading west.

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