Free Grapes of Wrath Essays: Steinbeck's Style

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Analysis of Style of The Grapes Of Wrath   

 John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath is a moving novel, full of richly metaphorical language.  His writing style often evokes deep emotions, as it does in the passage reprinted below, by creating a clear picture in your mind of what he’s trying to say.  In this selection, he enforces a strong image in the reader’s mind: you cannot escape your past, which will be with you no matter where you go or what you do.  This message is enforced through a combination of wit and style in his writing that is rarely found among literary works.



But you can’t start.  Only a baby can start.  You and me—why, we’re all that’s been.  That anger of a moment, the thousand pictures, that’s us.  This land, this red land, is us; and the flood years and the drought years are us.  We can’t start again.  The bitterness we sold to the junk man—he got it all right, but we have it still.  And when the owner man told us to go, that’s us; and when the tractor hit the house, that’s us until we’re dead.  To California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness.  And some day—the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way.  And they’ll all walk together and there’ll be a dead terror from it.    (ch. 9, p. 11)


An important point that Steinbeck tries to deliver is the significance of memory.  “The bitterness we sold to the junk man—he got it all right, but we have it still.”  Despite having rid themselves of the physical presence of reminders of past woes, the mental image and pain still remain.  Just because there isn’t anything around to provide evidence of something happening doesn’t mean that it will go away.  “You and me—why, we’re all that’s been,” he wrote—people are defined by their experiences as memories, not by what is around them.  One’s character is shaped from within, by his mind and his thoughts, not what he surrounds himself with in the external world.

Steinbeck’s word choice has a very significant impact on the effectiveness of his writing.  By using words and phrases like “junk man,” “dead terror,” and the repetition of the words “bitterness” and “dead,” he drives his point home in a very matter-of-fact sort of way.

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"Free Grapes of Wrath Essays: Steinbeck's Style." 28 Mar 2017

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  He doesn’t beat around the bush or dodge the issue at all, he just spits it out, plain and clear—“...that’s us until we’re dead.”  What he is saying is definite and concrete, and simple enough that a child could understand it.  This is a technique similar to that used by Toni Morrison in Beloved.  By not overcomplicating his writing, the same meaning is conveyed in fewer words, and is therefore more potent. 

Further adding strength to his narrative is its similarity to the writing structure of the Bible.  His sentences are generally short and often start with the word “And,” just as the books of the Bible do.  This makes his tone sound very prophetic, powerful, and forceful.  He speaks of “armies of bitterness” that will “walk together and there’ll be a dead terror from it”—forecasting terrible events in the future as if he knew they were going to happen.  Because he takes a tone of power and knowledge, his words demand respect, and it makes his message all the more tangible and real.

Steinbeck’s writing is elegantly simple, and with this style, he gives a clear and powerful message.  His deeply meaningful metaphors convey emotions and sentiments in a way that forcibly affects the reader.  The distinct Biblical references add an air of authority to his work that makes it all the more effective.  Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath is brimming with profound meaning in every sentence to a level equaled by few novels



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