The Grapes of Wrath: Alliteration & Consonance

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 John Steinbeck's use of consonance and alliteration as literary devices that draw attention to the detailed descriptions of the settings in ''The Grapes of Wrath''.

Background Information

Harry Firestone said, 'Success is the sum of the details.' The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is a stunningly detailed portrayal of the Joad family who have lost their farm in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and are forced to relocate to California in hopes of finding work. Once they arrive, the conditions in California are deplorable, but they don't have many options. Throughout the novel, the settings are described using consonance and alliteration. Let's look at some examples of these literary devices from this novel.

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds for poetic effect. For example, as the narrator describes the Dust Bowl, he says:

'The dawn came, but no day. In the gray sky a red sun appeared, a dim red circle that gave a little light, like dusk; and as that day advanced, the dusk slipped back toward darkness, and the wind cried and whimpered over the fallen corn.'

In these sentences, the 'd' sound is repeated multiple times in both the beginning of words, like 'dawn,' 'day,' and 'dusk,' at the end of words, such as 'slipped' and 'whimpered,' and in the middle of words like 'advanced.' With consonance, it doesn't matter where the consonant lies in the word as long as it is repeated multiple times within close proximity.

Another example of consonance occurs when describing the fruit in the California orchards. The narrator says:

'…pale pink, purple and yellow; and each variety with its own flavor. The men who work in the experimental farms have made new fruits: nectarines and forty kinds of plums, walnuts with paper shells.'

The 'p' sound is repeated at the beginning of 'pale,' 'pink,' and 'plums' and in the middle of 'experimental' and 'paper.'

In both of these examples, consonance attributes to the beauty of the imagery that the author employs to help readers visualize the setting.

Alliteration

Alliteration is a form of consonance in which the vowel sound that is repeated occurs at the beginning of each word. For example, when the driver of the truck that takes Tom home from prison realizes that Tom is a former inmate, the narrator says, 'And suddenly he was silent and waiting. And his hands were still white on the wheel.' The repetition of the 'w' sound at the beginning of several words is alliteration that is used to draw attention to the emotional state of the driver as he nervously awaits hearing that Tom was in prison for homicide.

Another example of alliteration is when the 'Curious children crowded close…' to the tractor driver who ate his lunch right in front of the starving families before destroying their home. The repetition of the 'c' sound draws attention to the sad, hungry children as the apathetic driver scarfs down his meal before ruining their lives.

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