The Grapes of Wrath - Corporate Social
The Grapes of Wrath (1939)
Written by the American, John Steinbeck (1920-68),
pictured right below.
- Based on the American migration of sharecroppers (poor tenant farmers) from Oklahoma
to California because of drought, soil erosion and debt during the Great Depression of the
- Made into a 1940
film starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, one of the Oklahoma migrants
Tom Joad, the book’s hero.
Ma Joad, his mother.
Jim Casy, his friend.
Rose of Sharon, his oldest sister.
After four years imprisonment for killing a man in a fight, Tom Joad returns to his family
farm in Oklahoma, accompanied by an ex-preacher, Jim Casy (pictured right
together in the 1940 film - Tom is on the left).
They discover the farm deserted and Tom’s family loading its few possessions into an old truck, evicted from
their farm and forced to migrate to California like thousands of other desperate farmers
Ma Joad, Tom’s mother, is a constant support to everyone else in the family - Tom and his
- Grampa Joad (who is heartbroken and dies soon after leaving).
- brothers and sisters - Noah (deformed and retarded at birth by Pa’s botched
delivery), Al, Winfield, Ruthie and Rose of
Sharon (deserted by her husband, Connie, on arriving in California).
During the journey Noah leaves (feeling unloved) and Granma dies.
Like the other Okies, the family (with Jim Casy) meets much hostility in California,
particularly from people who think they will take their jobs, the police and landowners.
The Joads arrive in a horrible, overcrowded camp, meeting Floyd Knowles, a union organizer, who
tells them that a day's work is so poorly paid that it can't buy a decent meal.
Knowles resists arrest by the police for being an agitator, helped by Tom and Jim Casy, who takes the blame
for starting the fight and goes to jail.
The Joads then move to a government run camp which is much more hospitable and
But Tom discovers that the police are planning to incite a riot as an excuse to close the camp. He makes sure
that this doesn't happen and gets a farm job at even lower wages.
But, still without steady work, the Joads have to move on. They find work picking
peaches but soon learn they have been hired to break a workers’ strike, provoked by a halving of
Tom runs into Jim who, since his release from jail, has begun to organize the migrant workers into a
union. The landowners hate him and so the police hunt him down and kill him.
Tom (Henry Fonda, pictured right, in the 1940 film):
- retaliates and kills a policeman.
- goes into hiding (whilst his family are working as cotton pickers).
- has to leave after Ruthie unintentionally gives him away.
He then continues Jim’s work unionizing the migrant workers.
During floods, Ma Joad leads her family to the safety of a dry barn. There they find a young boy kneeling over
his father who is slowly starving to death.
Despite having suffered the misery of a stillborn baby, Rose of Sharon (Tom’s eldest sister) breastfeeds
the starving man.
What does it tell us about corporate social
1. People must come first
In response to the migrants’ exploitation, Jim Casy (John Carradine, pictured right, in the 1940
film) suffers and dies for them, which is why he has the same initials as
Self-respect is vital. Tom’s retarded brother, Noah, leaves the family because he feels
One farmer, like many others, lost his wealth on losing his farm.
“I am the land and the land is me”, he says.
The book shows the growing importance of women, ending with Rose of Sharon selflessly giving
her breast milk to the starving man.
2. People are interdependent
Jim believes that people are joined together into one big soul (Ralph Waldo Emerson’s , pictured right, idea of
In other words, the interests of each person are the concern of everybody else.
3. Community is crucial
The migrants discover they are more effective as a community, operating to achieve common
objectives (as when they stop the police closing their camp).
4. Opportunity and oppression
The grapes in the book’s title symbolize opportunity, but they are full of
wrath because of the migrants’:
Their misery is shown by the starving man at the end of the book.
But there is also hope shown by Rose of Sharon breastfeeding him.
Rose (Dorris Bowdon) is pictured right in the 1940 film with Ma and Tom .
5. Practise what you preach
Jim hates the hypocrisy of self-righteous Christians who mistreat the migrants.
6. Businesses are part of society
People and businesses are greatly influenced by changes in the world around them. The Joads are driven from
their farm in Oklahoma by:
Poverty and worker exploitation lead to unrest, unions and strikes.
7. Go green
The devastating soil erosion in Oklahoma shows what can happen when the environment is
8. Leadership is vital
Jim’s integrity and moral example inspire Tom to carry on his work unionizing
They are both good leaders because they are pragmatic idealists
- firmly holding on to their philosophy of love and justice.
- applying it flexibly to different situations.
9. The triumph of the human spirit
Ma Joad (Jane Darwell, pictured right with Tom and her husband, Pa, in the 1940 film)
- has the spirit to ensure her family’s survival.
- is prepared to accept progressive change.
“People is goin’ on – changin’ a little maybe, but goin’ right on”, she says.
Tom inherits her tenacity and optimism, transforming himself from a
self-centred criminal into a heroic fighter for migrants’ rights.
10. Profit with principle
The book shows that business isn’t necessarily bad, but it can unfairly exploit people.
Key quote on
In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy for the vintage.
Key quotes on ethics (by Jim
A man got to do what he got to do.
All that lives is holy.
I love people so much I’m fit to bust, sometimes.
If you think it was a sin – then it’s a sin.
Key quote on banks
The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it, the
Two literature websites to