How to Write About The Grapes of Wrath the Smart Way

Who says all good books have to be happy ones? The Grapes of Wrath certainly proves this is just not the case. It takes place during the Great Depression, so you know right away that it’s not going to be a particularly uplifting story.

But just because the story has a lot of depressing elements doesn’t mean it’s not a literary classic. In fact, it’s one of the most popular books for high school students to read because it is so rich in literary devices and potential analysis points.

If you’re having trouble figuring out just what those points of analysis are or how to write about The Grapes of Wrath, I’ve got you covered.

I’ll not only give you some tips on how to set yourself up to write a great essay, but also give you some example thesis statements you can use as inspiration for your own writing.

So let’s dive in, shall we?

Read to Analyze The Grapes of Wrath

the grapes of wrath

You’re writing an analytical essay, and the first step to writing analytically is reading analytically. Some call this active reading, which basically means that you aren’t just sitting back and reading for the heck of it—you’re reading with the goal of true comprehension.

There are a few techniques that can help you become a more active reader. They all deal with making the important information from the book easily accessible for when you have to write your essay.


Unless you already have a prompt that asks you to write about specific elements of The Grapes of Wrath, you’re going to be pulling quite a lot of information relating to different symbols, metaphors, characters, etc.

It helps some students to have a fast way to tell which sections of text fall into which literary category. That’s where highlighting is helpful.

You can use different colors for the different categories. That way, when you do decide what you want your essay to be about, you can skim through the pages and pick out, for example, only the blue highlighted sections or only the yellow ones.

Taking notes

Note-taking can be split into several sub-categories. You can take notes on paper or on a computer, where you can write as much or as little as you want.

However, some students find annotating directly in the margins of the book to be more useful because then they can point exactly to the block of text they’re referring to without having to write or type that text.

Hybrid methods

There are various ways to combine the above methods, but my personal favorite is using different colors of sticky notes.

This way, each color can represent a symbol, a theme, or something else. You get the option to express your thoughts about the text (in detail) as you’re reading. You can collect all the sticky notes after you’re finished reading and decide the best topic to write about.

Make a Roadmap

the grapes of wrath

Once you’ve gathered all your information, it can seem like a lot to sort through. But you don’t want to be like the Joads and be completely unprepared when you reach your destination (actually writing your essay).

That’s why it’s important to have a roadmap, or outline, to make it easier.

A traditional outline follows a Roman-numeral setup, where each section gets a number and the supporting information is listed underneath. This is the type of outline I’ve written below. However, if you’re a more visual person, an idea web or bubble chart may be more helpful for you.

No matter what type of outline you use, you should include some basic information. What’s your thesis statement? What are your main ideas? What’s the support for those main ideas? My The Grapes of Wrath outline would look something like this:

  1. Introduction
    1. Hook
    2. Thesis statement: As the story progresses, Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy and her child’s birth take on new symbolic meanings. Her pregnancy symbolizes hope, and her stillborn child represents the loss of that hope.
  2. Pregnancy
    1. Symbolizes the hope of new beginnings
    2. A new baby would be the start of a whole new chapter of the Joads’ lives
  3. Stillborn child
    1. Symbolizes the end of hope
    2. Rose of Sharon’s body still produces milk, an effect from pregnancy, meaning there’s still a small sliver of hope
    3. Makes the best out of a bad situation by feeding the dying man
  4. Conclusion
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Ideas for Your The Grapes of Wrath Essay

the grapes of wrath

Now that you have a few reading strategies and know how to outline, you’re probably feeling pretty ready to start writing your essay. But before you do, it might be helpful to look at some analysis ideas to get your creativity going.

The important thing to remember is that this is an analysis, not a summary. You’re not trying to paint a broad picture of what happened in the book. Rather, you’re looking at how a literary device is used. This could be discussing a theme or how symbolism is used throughout the text.

Putting too much information into your essay actually dilutes what you’re trying to say and makes your arguments much weaker. So stick to one literary device, and use as much evidence as you can muster to support it.

Here are some examples of elements you can discuss in The Grapes of Wrath:


Route 66

the grapes of wrath

Roads in general symbolize many things in The Grapes of Wrath. Depending on the road, it can symbolize home or the great unknown. In the case of Route 66, the road symbolizes hope and opportunity.

Route 66 doesn’t intersect with any other highway, which means the Joads have to either take their chances and hope that there is prosperity in California or go back to a life of certain despair.

Here’s an example thesis statement:

In The Grapes of Wrath, roads symbolize home and unknown places, hope and despair. But the main road, Route 66, represents both the pursuit of new opportunities and the risk of returning to squalor.

Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy

Rose of Sharon is pregnant up until the very end of the book. The pregnancy symbolizes hope. A new baby could mean a new beginning.

However, Rose of Sharon delivers the baby stillborn, which dashes the dreams of a new beginning. But because of the effects the pregnancy had on her after the delivery (the ability to breastfeed), all hope is not lost.

While the end is frankly kind of weird, nursing the dying man shows that, even without a new beginning, people have to make the best out of their situations.

I’ve included the thesis statement for this symbol in the example outline above, but here it is again:

As the story progresses, Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy and her child’s birth take on new symbolic meanings. Her pregnancy symbolizes hope, and her stillborn child represents the loss of that hope.


Suffering caused by the inhumanity of others

There is a lot of pain, struggle, and hardship in The Grapes of Wrath, but it’s mostly caused by the fact that the Joads and all the other migrants are poor.

The inhumanity that the landowners (rich people) display toward the migrants stems from fear of the migrants taking over their land.

So what do the landowners do? They treat them like dogs and turn them against each other by making resources extremely scarce. The whole story stems around this division in class and shows just how much poor people suffer at the hands of the rich.

My thesis statement for an essay on this topic would look like this:

In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck explores the theme of suffering being caused by people’s inhumanity. He shows the fear of the landowners turning into anger and suppression, ultimately demonstrating how the inhumanity of the rich is what keeps them in control over the poor.

Need More Help?

the grapes of wrath

There are so many other directions you could take with your The Grapes of Wrath analysis. If you need more concrete inspiration, check out the focus in each example essay on The Grapes of Wrath linked below. The essays tackle the following themes:

(Writing your own character analysis? Read How to Write a Character Analysis That Works.)

And if you’re still struggling to get started, here’s some extra help on writing a literary analysis:

Even though The Grapes of Wrath wasn’t the happiest book out there, by using some of the tips in this post, you can be happy about the way you write about it. The Kibin editors are always here to help as well. They’ll make sure your essay is on the road to success.

Good luck!

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