The Grapes of Wrath Quotes: Hunger & Starvation

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 some quotes on hunger and starvation from John Steinbeck's ''The Grapes of Wrath'', which takes place during the Great Depression.

Background Information

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck could have been the original The Hunger Games. The Joad family is forced from their land in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl where they are already half-starving. They move to California in hopes of finding opportunity but remain homeless and hungry in even worse conditions. Let's examine some quotes about hunger and starvation from this novel. ''May the odds be ever in your favor!''

Home in Oklahoma

While the bank demands more and more of the profits from the sharecroppers, the workers don't know what to do. They say, ''We can't take less share of the crop--we're half-starved now. The kids are hungry all the time. We got no clothes, torn an' ragged. If all the neighbors weren't the same, we'd be ashamed to go to meeting.'' But the bank is relentless and eventually drives them off their property.

By the time Tom Joad, the protagonist, is paroled, he goes to his family farm to find it empty. A former neighbor, Muley, sees him and explains that his parents are staying with Tom's Uncle John. Muley offered to share the rabbits he caught with Tom and Jim Casy, the former preacher that has been traveling with Tom. Muley explains that ''if a fella's got somepin to eat an' another fella's hungry-- why, the first fella ain't got no choice. I mean, s'pose I pick up my rabbits an' go off somewheres an' eat 'em. See?''

The next morning, Tom and Casy begin the long walk to Uncle John's house. The men complain that their bellies have caved in from hunger. Casy offers, ''Like a little eatin' tobacca? Keeps ya from gettin' too hungry.'' When they arrive at Uncle John's, the family is in the process of selling off everything they own and getting ready to move to California where they have heard there are opportunities.

Moving to California

Along the way, the Joads meet some people who are heading back to Oklahoma because they tried to make it in California, but couldn't. The stranger says, ''You gonna see in people's face how they hate you. An'--I'll tell you somepin. They hate you 'cause they're scairt. They know a hungry fella gonna get food even if he got to take it. They know that fallow lan's a sin an' somebody' gonna take it.''

It is not only the fellow workers that are scared of the Okies. The landowners are also afraid. The narrator explains, ''And always they were in fear of a principal--three hundred thousand--if they ever move under a leader--the end. Three hundred thousand, hungry and miserable; if they ever know themselves, the land will be theirs and all the gas, all the rifles in the world won't stop them.''

When they arrive at a migrant camp in California, the Joads meet some others and find out what others have been through. Al, the sixteen-year-old, is girl-crazy, but he is told, ''You get a little hungry an' you'll change.'' At the government camp, Tom meets Timothy who explains, ''We sol' our car. Had to. Run outa food, run outa ever'thing. Couldn' git no job. Fellas come aroun' ever' week, buyin' cars. Come aroun', an' if you're hungry, why, they'll buy your car. An' if you're hungry enough, they don't hafta pay nothin' for it. An'--we was hungry enough. Give us ten dollars for her.'' There are always people ready to take advantage of those who are starving. The landowners lowered wages, when they discovered ''a whole slew a new pickers so goddamn hungry they'd pick for a loaf a bread.'' Although it's not fair, they can't quit.

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