11 Facts About The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

is John Steinbeck’s award-winning political novel about the Great Depression. It follows the Joad family as they’re forced to leave their Oklahoma farm and go west to California for work. The 1939 book humanized the “Okies,” captured history as it was happening, and earned its author so much personal trouble that he started carrying a gun for protection. Find out more about the classic below.

1. THE NOVEL WAS INSPIRED BY VISITS TO LABOR CAMPS. 

In 1936, the San Francisco News hired Steinbeck to write a series of articles about migrant labor camps in California. The articles, which you can read here, were later reprinted in a pamphlet along with Dorothea Lange’s iconic photographs. In the pieces, Steinbeck described Americans living in filthy shacks without running water and suffering from malnutrition, illness, and death. He used much of what he saw in The Grapes of Wrath.

2. STEINBECK INADVERTENTLY USED RESEARCH FOR SOMEONE ELSE'S NOVEL.

The author dedicated The Grapes of Wrath to Tom Collins, who managed the Migratory Labor Camp in Kern County, California and helped Steinbeck research the novel. "I need this stuff,” Steinbeck wrote of the detailed reports Collins gave him about the camps. “It is exact and just the thing that will be used against me if I'm wrong.” But Steinbeck didn’t know that another writer, Sanora Babb, had written the reports and was using them as the foundation for her own novel, Whose Names Are Unknown. It was going to be published by Random House when The Grapes Of Wrath hit the bestseller list. Steinbeck’s novel upstaged Babb and her book was shelved until she finally published her work in 2004, the year before she died.

3. WHILE HE WAS RESEARCHING THE WORK, THERE WAS A RIOT IN STEINBECK'S HOMETOWN. 

Steinbeck grew up in Salinas, California, a farming community that was politically divided between workers and agricultural landowners. Although born into the middle class, Steinbeck sympathized with the workingman and worked on a sugar beet farm as a young man. (He used to pay workers a quarter to tell him their life stories, which sometimes made it into his fiction.) At the time Steinbeck was writing about the labor camps, the Salinas Lettuce Strike broke out when tension between workers who wanted to unionize, landowners, and the police erupted in violence in the streets. Here’s footage of the riot:

4. STEINBECK FOUND WRITING THE NOVEL HARROWING.

While writing The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck kept a journal of his process. The account shows the emotional ups and downs of an intense writing experience. He knew he was writing something that could be potentially great, but he doubted his ability to do it. “This book has become a misery to me because of my inadequacy,” the journal reads. He seemed to find writing not only mentally difficult, but hard on the nerves. “My stomach and my nerves are screaming merry hell in protest against the inroads,” he wrote. And again later, “And now home with a little stomach ache that doesn’t come from the stomach.” For more, here's a podcast of an actor reading from the journal. 

5. THE TITLE COMES FROM 'THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC.'

Steinbeck’s wife Carol thought of taking The Grapes of Wrath from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic": “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord/He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” The poem—later a song—was written by Julia Ward Howe in 1861. She got “grapes of wrath” from Revelation 14:19 in the Bible. In choosing the title, Steinbeck was emphasizing that the book was American, not Communist propaganda, as he knew it would be called.

6. THE BOOK WAS BURNED AND BANNED.

The novel was critically acclaimed and a bestseller—some 430,000 copies had been printed by February 1940. But it was also controversial. The Associated Farmers of California was angered by the book, which implied that they used the migrants for cheap labor. They called the book a “pack of lies” and launched an attack against it, publicly burning the work and calling it Communist. Other institutions banned the book because of profanity and because of the ending, when a woman breastfeeds a starving man. 

7. STEINBECK GREW SO AFRAID THAT HE STARTED CARRYING A GUN. 

Steinbeck encountered so much hostility after The Grapes of Wrath came out that he considered giving up writing altogether. Articles in the press, buoyed by the Associated Farmers of California, launched a “hysterical personal attack” on Steinbeck. “I’m a pervert, a drunk, a dope fiend,” he wrote. For a time, the FBI put him under surveillance. In Salinas, people he knew his entire life became unfriendly toward him. He received death threats and was advised by the Monterey County Sheriff to carry a gun. Steinbeck complied. His son, Thomas Steinbeck, said, “My father was the best-armed man I knew, and went most places armed.” 

8. THE 1940 MOVIE VERSION WAS A BOX-OFFICE SMASH.

While the book did well on its own, the 1940 movie cemented The Grapes of Wrath as a classic. Directed by John Ford, it starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. Steinbeck reportedly liked Fonda’s performance, saying it made him “believe my own words.” Ford won an Oscar for Best Director and Jane Darwell won Best Supporting Actress as Ma Joad.

9. WOODY GUTHRIE WROTE THE BALLAD OF TOM JOAD.

When the movie came out, Victor Records asked Woody Guthrie to write 12 songs about the Dust Bowl for an album called Dust Bowl Ballads. One song was supposed to be based on the movie. So Guthrie borrowed a friend’s typewriter, sat down with a jug of wine, and typed out the lyrics to “Tom Joad.” 

10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH GAVE ROUTE 66 ITS NICKNAME. 

In the book, Steinbeck writes about Route 66, the 2,500-mile-road between Chicago and Los Angeles, which used to be a major artery in the United States. “66 is the mother road, the road of flight,” Steinbeck penned. Since then, the "Mother Road" has been portrayed in everything from Bobby Troup's song "Route 66" to Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road

11. THE NOVEL LED STEINBECK TO THE NOBEL PRIZE. 

The Grapes of Wrath

 won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and was a major factor for Steinbeck winning the Nobel Prize in 1962. Here’s his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. 

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

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13 Unbelievable Unfinished Projects

The National Monument of Scotland.
The National Monument of Scotland.

Sometimes, your 10-hour movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune—set to star Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí, and Orson Welles—simply never ends up panning out (looking at you, Alejandro Jodorowsky).

For every building built, painting painted, and film filmed, there are countless others that fall by the wayside for some reason or another. On this episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy has scoured the margins of history to tell the most fascinating stories of projects left unfinished. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Grim Reaper is often to blame; Jane Austen gave up on Sanditon not long before her death, and Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away the same day Elizabeth Shoumatoff was trying to paint his portrait. Other projects proved too expensive to finish—like Cincinnati’s subway system.

So what happens to all the novels with no endings and tunnels with no trains? Press play below to find out, and explore other episodes of The List Show on the Mental Floss YouTube channel.