The Grapes of Wrath Quotes: Land & The Dust Bowl

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'' is the story of the Joads and their journey from Oklahoma to California in hope of work in the migrant camps. This lesson provides quotes and background on the Dust Bowl and its effect on the people.

The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is based on the true troubles of people living in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. The Joads were experiencing huge 'black blizzards' of dust, and were struggling with their farm. Unable to make it profitable, the Joads are pushed off their land, which drives them to find work in California.

To frame this nightmare scenario, Steinbeck often describes the state of the land and the Dust Bowl. Let's take a look at some specific quotes.

The Land in the Dust Bowl

The Joads have a farm in Oklahoma where they have lived for years. However, the drought was changing the color and consistency of the earth around them, which became the start of problems that culminated into the Dust Bowl: ''The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.''

Steinbeck continues to tell the story of a dust storm to emphasize the dramatic effect it had not he people and their environment. They started calling the dust storms a 'black blizzard' because: ''Little by little the sky was darkened by the mixing dust, and the wind felt over the earth, loosened the dust, and carried it away.''

As the story goes on Steinbeck uses a lot of symbolism to foreshadow what is to come for the Joads, which is nothing good. He spends a lot of time on a turtle and its trek across the ground. The turtle is having to carry the heavy burden of its shell through the thick layer of dried soil, ''The turtle entered a dust road and jerked itself along, drawing a wavy shallow trench in the dust with its shell.'' He continues to explain how the turtle slips in the dust because of the lack of traction.

This anticipates the trouble the Joads will have in finding new work, and the weight they will have to carry along the way. Yet the story mentions how the dragging of his shell in the soil had made the underside of the shell ''clean and smooth.' This is an inference to how going through trial and tribulations can shape and evolve a person in a good way.

The Effects of the Dust

The Dust Bowl affected the people in the mid-west in various ways. The dust destroyed crops and made it challenging for the farmers to make money: ''During a night the wind raced faster over the land, dug cunningly among the rootlets of the corn, and the corn fought the wind with its weakened leaves until the roots were freed by the prying wind and then each stalk settled wearily sideways toward the earth and pointed the direction of the wind.''

During the storms the sand and soil would get through the cracks and seams in a house, covering everything in it: ''Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes.'' It also affected the air, which caused health issues for anyone breathing without a mask.

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