The Grapes of Wrath American Dream Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson explores John Steinbeck's representation of the American Dream through quotes and dialogue from 'The Grapes of Wrath.' We'll learn how Steinbeck mixes desperation and faith with allusions to the Bible. Then, we'll take a look at the struggles of migrant workers.

''Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness''

The American Dream is a promise of freedom, livelihood, equality, and success. ''Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,'' says the U. S. Constitution.

But in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, the American Dream isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's estimated that as many as 400,000 migrants fled The Dust Bowl, areas of drought across Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, in the 1930s. For thousands of displaced families, unemployment, poverty, hunger, sickness, and homelessness became a way of life. The novel tells a heartrending story about the American Dream failing the people.

An old jalopy travels down route 66 through a dust storm
dust bowl

California: The Promised land

When forced from their property, the Joad family joins the hoards of destitute ''Oakies.'' The new landowner suggests, ''Why don't you go on west to California? There's work there, and it never gets cold. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange. Why, there's always some kind of crop to work in.''

The west symbolizes prosperity and wealth. California, with its sun-drenched orange and grape fields, became the destination for thousands of migrant workers. The Joads set off with dreams of picking more grapes than one can eat. Grampa is the real dreamer of the bunch. He imagines how good life will be once they arrive:

''Jus' let me get out to California where I can pick me an orange when I want it. Or grapes. There's a thing I ain't never had enough of. 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.''

Steinbeck draws heavily on the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Biblical allusions, indirect references to its stories and language, parallel the Joad's journey to California with the pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Facing constant setbacks, the journey tests their faith.

The overloaded jalopy putts down highway 66. ''The people in flight from the terror behind- strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.''

The Failed Promise

Unfortunately for the Joads, they soon discover that the handbill advertisement for California work has also beckoned countless other families onto Route 66:

''Pea Pickers Wanted in California. Good Wages All Season. 800 Pickers Wanted.''

When their car breaks down in New Mexico, the Joads make camp and encounter another migrant seeking work. Pulling out the orange handbill, the man breaks it to Pa Joad that there is no work in California.

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