The Grapes of Wrath: Simile & Metaphor

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck is a novel about the Joad family who lose everything in the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. In this lesson, we will examine the use of simile and metaphor in this novel.


Marilyn Monroe once said, 'I'm pretty, but I'm not beautiful. I sin but I'm not the devil. I'm good, but I'm not an angel.' When describing herself, she uses metaphors by comparing herself to both a devil and an angel. Metaphors are when things that are not the same are compared to one another in order to describe a shared characteristic. In this case, Marilyn and the devil are both sinful. In addition, Marilyn and an angel are both good. But she is clear that she is neither as good or as bad as the things she is comparing herself to. Similes, like metaphors, compare unlike things, but with similes, words such as 'like' and 'as' are used in the comparison. John Steinbeck uses similes and metaphors to describe the setting, characters, and events of the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. Let's examine some examples from the novel.


The following examples use the word 'as' in similes to describe things:

  • When the narrator describes the Dust Bowl, he says, 'In the morning the dust hung like fog, and the sun was as red as ripe new blood.' Comparing the red of the sun to the red of blood using 'as' is an example of simile.
  • As Tom leaves prison, the narrator describes him, 'His hands were hard, with broad fingers and nails as thick and ridged as little clam shells.' Comparing his nails to clam shells describes how thick and ridged they are using simile.
  • The narrator describes Joad's impression of the willow tree on his family's farm, '‚Ķits load of leaves tattered and scraggly as a molting chicken.' This simile compares the tree to a chicken that is losing its feathers because it is losing its leaves.

Sometimes, similes use the word 'like' to describe things. Here are some examples:

  • Simile is used to compare the turtle's color to the dust that is everywhere. 'The back was brown-gray, like the dust, but the underside of the shell was creamy yellow, clean and smooth.'
  • When describing Jim Casy, the narrator says, 'A denim coat with brass buttons and a spotted brown hat creased like a pork pie lay on the ground beside him.' I'm not sure what a pork pie looks like, but it appears to be wrinkled like Casy's hat.
  • When Casy reminisces about baptizing Tom and his father, he says they were 'Fightin' an' yellin' like a couple of cats.' Have you ever tried to bathe a cat? The comparison illustrates their bad behavior when the preacher tried to dunk them.


Metaphors provide a more direct comparison. Rather than pointing out the characteristic that is shared, it is left to the reader's experience to uncover the description. Here are some examples of metaphors:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account