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. 

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

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

10 Fascinating Facts About Herman Melville

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in New York City to a wealthy and socially connected family, Herman Melville (1819-1891) chose a life as exciting as that of his Moby-Dick narrator Ishmael. He spent years at sea on whaling ships and traveled to far-flung places, but also struggled to make it as a novelist while supporting a large extended family. To celebrate his birthday on August 1, we’re diving into Melville’s adventures and fishing for some surprising facts.

1. Herman Melville's mother changed the spelling of their last name.

Despite his family’s wealth and pedigree—his mother Maria Gansevoort descended from one of the first Dutch families in New York, and his father Allan Melvill came from old Boston stock—young Herman had an unstable, unhappy childhood. Allan declared bankruptcy in 1830 and died two years later, leaving Maria with eight children under the age of 17 and a pile of debt from loans and Allan’s unsuccessful businesses. Soon afterward, Maria added an "e" to their surname—perhaps to hide from collection agencies, although scholars are not sure exactly why. "It always seemed to me an unlikely way to avoid creditors in the early 19th century," Will Garrison, executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society, tells Mental Floss.

2. Herman Melville struggled to find employment.

Thanks to a national financial crisis in 1837, Melville had difficulty finding a permanent job, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He served as a bank clerk, teacher, land surveyor, and crew member on a packet ship before signing on, in 1841, to the whaler Acushnet of New Bedford, Massachusetts, then the whaling capital of the world. He served aboard a few different whalers and rose to the role of harpooner. His adventures at sea planted the seeds for Melville’s interrogation of man, morality, and nature in Moby-Dick. In that novel, Melville (in the voice of Ishmael) says, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

3. Herman Melville jumped ship in the middle of a three-year voyage. 

Melville and the Acushnet’s captain didn’t get along, so when the ship reached the Marquesas Islands, Melville and a friend, Richard Tobias Greene, hid in the forests until the ship departed. They spent a month living with the Pacific Islanders. Melville was impressed with their sophistication and peacefulness; most Europeans believed that Polynesians were cannibals. He also found reason to criticize European attempts to "civilize" the islanders by converting them to Christianity. Melville drew on his South Pacific experiences in his first two novels, which became runaway bestsellers: Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847).

4. Herman Melville was inspired by a mountain.

Herman Melville's home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, MassachusettsDaderot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Melville moved to Arrowhead, his charming mustard-colored home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with his wife Elizabeth and their son in 1850, after he achieved fame as a popular adventure novelist. In the upstairs study, he set up his writing desk so he could look out the north-facing window, which perfectly framed the summit of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’s tallest mountain. Gazing at the peak on a sunny day, Melville was struck by how much the horizontal apex looked "like a sperm whale rising in the distance." He arranged his desk so he would see the summit when he happened to glance up from his work. In that room, in early 1851, Melville completed his manuscript of Moby-Dick.

5. Herman Melville fictionalized an actual whaling disaster.

While on the Acushnet, Melville had learned about an infamous shipwreck from the son of one of its survivors. In November 1820, a massive sperm whale had attacked and sunk the whaleship Essex of Nantucket in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its crew, stranded in three small boats with little food or water, chose to drift more than 4000 miles to South America instead of 1200 miles to the Marquesas Islands—where Melville had enjoyed his idyll—because they thought they’d be eaten by the natives. Ironically, some of the castaways ended up eating their dead shipmates to survive.

Melville used the disaster to form the climax of Moby-Dick, in which the Pequod of Nantucket is destroyed by the white whale. Melville visited Nantucket for the first time only after the novel was published. He personally interviewed the Essex’s captain, George Pollard, who had survived the terrible ordeal and become the town’s night watchman. Later, Melville wrote, "To the islanders he was a nobody—to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered."

6. Moby-Dick was a flop.

Readers who were expecting another rip-roarin’ adventure like his earlier novels Typee or Redburn were sorely disappointed when Melville’s masterpiece was published in November 1851. The British edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale received some positive reviews in London newspapers, but American reviewers were shocked at its obscure literary symbolism and complexity. “There is no method in his madness; and we must needs pronounce the chief feature of the volume [the character of Captain Ahab] a perfect failure, and the work itself inartistic,” wrote the New York Albion. The reviewer added that the novel's style was like "having oil, mustard, vinegar, and pepper served up as a dish, in place of being scientifically administered sauce-wise."

7. Herman Melville was very fond of his chimney.

Arrowhead became the locus of Melville’s family life and work. Eventually, he and Lizzie, their two sons and two daughters, his mother Maria, and his sisters Augusta, Helen, and Fanny all lived in the cozy farmhouse. For a couple of years, Nathaniel Hawthorne was such a frequent guest that he had his own small bedroom off Melville’s study. After Moby-Dick, Melville wrote the novels Pierre and The Confidence-Man, his collection of works called The Piazza Tales, short stories including “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and many other pieces there. Melville grew very attached to the house, especially to the massive central chimney, which he immortalized in his 1856 short story “I and My Chimney.” Yet his financial struggles after Moby-Dick failed to find an audience led Melville to sell Arrowhead to his brother Allan in 1863. As an homage, Allan painted a few lines from “I and My Chimney” on the chimney's stonework, which are still visible today.

8. Herman Melville finally got a day job.

Melville’s chronic money woes prompted a return to New York City, into a brick townhouse at 104 East 26th Street in Manhattan, where the family benefited from being back in the bustle of civilization. Melville finally found regular employment as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service and maintained an office at 470 West Street. At the same time, he mostly abandoned writing short stories and novels in favor of poetry. In between inspections he wrote Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, based on his visit to the Middle East in 1857. Because of its length—at more than 18,000 lines, it's the longest poem in American literature—and unconventional approach to its subject, Melville once called it "eminently adapted for unpopularity."

9. Herman Melville's last major work was discovered by accident.

The centennial of Melville’s birth renewed interest in his novels and poems, most of which were long out of print by then. Raymond Weaver, a literature professor at Columbia University working on the first major biography of Melville, collaborated with Eleanor Melville Metcalf, Melville’s granddaughter and literary executor, who gave him access to the author’s papers. In 1919, while poking through letters and notes, Weaver discovered the unfinished manuscript of Billy Budd in a tin breadbox. Melville had started to write the short story about a tragic sailor in 1888 but, by his death in 1891, had not completed it. Weaver edited and published the story in 1924, but initially considered the tale "not distinguished." Other scholars asserted that Billy Budd was Melville’s final masterpiece.

10. You can see Herman Melville's personal collection of knick-knacks.

Just a short drive from Arrowhead, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield holds the world’s largest collection of Melvilliana in its Melville Memorial Room. Along with first editions of Melville’s work and a full library of books about him, there are priceless objects owned by or associated with the author. Fans can geek out over the earliest known portrait of Melville, painted in 1848; carved wooden canoe paddles that he collected in Polynesia; his walking stick; his favorite inkstand, quills, and other desktop tchotchkes; a collection of scrimshaw, maps, and prints; and Elizabeth Melville’s writing desk. There's a section of the first successful transatlantic cable, which Melville valued as a prized souvenir, and even the actual breadbox in which Billy Budd had been hiding.