The Grapes of Wrath Genre

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

John Steinbeck's ''The Grapes of Wrath'' fits into several possible literary genres. In this lesson, you'll learn more about those and the case for each.

What's Your Genre?

If you think about it, you probably have favorite genres in books, movies and music, without really even thinking about it. Maybe you like to read mysteries, prefer pop music to other kinds and choose romantic comedies when you watch movies on the weekend.

All of these types can be defined as genres, a way of classifying items that share similar content, form or technique. Movies that feature scary plots are part of the horror or thriller genre, while musicians who release popular, radio-ready music are generally classified in a pop or Top 40 genre.

In literature, there are myriad genre options ranging from fiction to nonfiction, and from drama and horror to historical fiction and romance. When we're talking about The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, we might look at a couple possible genres fits. Let's discuss the options below.

The Genre(s) of The Grapes of Wrath

Published in 1939, during a period of time following The Great Depression, the tale of the book focuses on the Joad family, tenant farmers relocated from Oklahoma to California, due to harsh environmental and economic conditions. The novel highlights the struggles of migrant workers in California as they tried to find work and a future pursuing the American dream.

Based on the contents of the novel, we could safely place The Grapes of Wrath into one of these literary genres:

1. Naturalism: Alongside other naturalist authors such as Edith Wharton and Stephen Crane, Steinbeck could easily fit into this category. Naturalism concerns stories where environment and social conditions help to determine and shape human character. You might see parallels in the name ''naturalism'' and things you learned about in science and, indeed, you're not far off track. Many naturalistic authors use scientific principles to study human behavior and how it relates to their surroundings.

Steinbeck's portrayal of the Joad family's struggles and how it impacted their behavior, such as their move from Oklahoma to California, or the treatment and behaviors of the migrant workers compared to the harsh surroundings of the migrant camps make this a natural fit as a genre for The Grapes of Wrath. Generally, naturalism focuses on lower-class characters who are impacted by their situation, and are ill-equipped to change their circumstances. Steinbeck's Joad family is portrayed as impacted by the conditions of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, but are unable to surmount their difficulties no matter what they do.

2. Realism: Though the period of American realism officially ended in the 1890s, the content of Steinbeck's novel could secure it a place in the realism genre. Realism in literature focuses on the real circumstances of the average, everyday human being. This genre shows things as they really are.

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