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The Grapes of Wrath Essay Topics & Questions

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

''The Grapes of Wrath'' by John Steinbeck is one of the most important books written about the Great Depression. This lesson provides a variety of different essay questions to help students analyze the story and understand its gravity.

Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck tells the story of a family who drives to California in hopes of finding a better life during the Great Depression. However, all the Joad family finds is migrant worker camps, meager wages, and conflict. The story is rich in religious symbolism and discusses the real issues that Steinbeck found while he was interviewing migrant workers in the 1930s. He realized the tribulations these people had to endure and decided to write a novel about it, which ended up winning him the Pulitzer Prize. Since the story is long and morose, it is important to come up with essay questions that can engage students and help them relate to the story.

Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

A good way to make this story relatable is to help students compare and contrast topics, books, and ideas. This will bring context to the story and help students in analyzing the text.

  • Compare and contrast Tom Joad and his father. What are their difference and similarities? Why do you think Tom is so different?
  • Compare and contrast the challenges the Joads had to real events of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Where did Steinbeck get it right? Where did he get it wrong?
  • Compare and contrast the two different chapters within The Grapes of Wrath. What do the Joad chapters do for the story? What about the more over-arching chapters?
  • Compare and contrast this story with another one of Steinbeck's novels.
  • Compare and contrast Oklahoma and California as the Joads experienced them. Is one better than the other? Do you think the Joads still have it better in California? Why or why not?
  • Compare and contrast the different classes in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Compare and contrast the prejudice against the migrant workers in The Grapes of Wrath with another large scale prejudicial moment in American history.

Symbolism Essay Topics

The following essay questions are meant to help students analyze the symbolism in the novel, which was really important to Steinbeck's story.

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