The book, Grapes of Wrath, follows the life of the Joad family, who live in Oklahoma during the Depression. The story begins with the return of Tom Joad from prison, where he has spent the last few years. He killed a boy in a bar fight and is now on parole. He is taken by surprise when he returns to Oklahoma only to find that his house is in ruins and his family is not there. He doesnt know that, while he was gone, the banks forced his family and thousands of others off their land. Tom is accompanied by a former priest, Casey, who searches with Tom for his family. Tom and Casey find the Joad family at Toms uncles house.
The family is preparing to move west to California in hopes that they will find jobs and escape the Dust Bowl drought. The Dust Bowl drought has killed all the farmers crops and the land has lost its richness. Tom decides to travel with his family, even though hes going against parole rules by leaving the state. The Joads travel west with all twelve members of the family and Casey piled into an old truck. The trip to California proves to be hard when their grandpa dies just days after their departure. Truck problems are regular occurrences and the penetrating heat tires the migrating family.
They have very little money and they have many family members to feed as well as gas to buy. Tom is warned by families going back east that there are no job opportunities in California. They say the Joads will be forced to live in Hoovervilles, which are temporary shanty towns, and they wont have enough money for decent meals. This news is disheartening to Tom, but the familys only choice is to keep traveling west. Toms grandmother eventually dies too from exhaustion and heat. Finally after many grueling days in the hot sun and numerous stops to fix the car, the Joads arrive at California.
However, their dreams of finding a wonderful place to live are shattered when they hear California residents calling them Oakies and saying bad things about them. Californians feel threatened by the families migrating into California because the newcomers will take all the job opportunities and they will steal food to avoid starvation. At first the Joads cant find work and they are forced to live in one of the Hoovervilles. The Hoovervilles are very run down and Connie , Toms brother, runs away from the family because of the disappointment of realizing his dreams will not come true.
When Tom gets in trouble with a officer in a Hooverville, Casey says its his fault and he is arrested instead of Tom. If Tom had been arrested he would have been sent back to prison for three years. Tom has always looked up to Casey and he is even more grateful for Caseys actions. The Joad family learns that there are jobs available as peach pickers to the north. They pack up and leave in hopes that maybe they will be better off from now on. When they arrive the whole family finds work and they earn enough to have decent meals.
However, soon after their arrival, Tom finds out that many workers are on strike and the strike leader is Casey. Soon after Tom talks to Casey, an officer who tries to get rid of strikers, kills Casey by striking him with a club. Tom reacts with anger after seeing his friend killed before his eyes. He kills the officer with a club and hes now in danger of being caught and sent to jail once again. The Joad family moves once again to escape the police searching for Tom and they camp in boxcars. After years of trying to keep her family together, Ma finally tells Tom he must leave because he is endangering the whole family.
After his departure, non stop rains fall on California. Instead of drought conditions, flood waters rise and many immigrants become sick and die. Rose of Sharon, Toms sister, gives birth to a baby that is born dead. The family then decides it must move to higher ground to escape the flood waters. They reach a dry refuge in a barn where they find a dying man and his son. The man is very weak and Rose of Sharon help nurse him back to health. The Joad family is still willing to help others in need, even after the hard times they have gone through.
This story is a vivid example of life during the 1930s. The drought killed farmers crops and banks forced the farm families off their land. This was one of the worst economic down falls ever during this countrys existence and Americans all over were effected by it. Farmers in the Dust Bowl region of the country were among those most severely hurt by the Depression. In spite of overwhelming difficulties, families and friends were loyal and supported each other. Grapes of Wrath shows that even through the toughest times, some people will be unselfish and help others.