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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Highway 66

The Grapes of Wrath (1940) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A brief history lesson is in order here, care of T. Harry Williams: “The last west was not, as has so often been claimed, a refuge for the urban poor or a safety valve for the proletarian unrest. The men who settled it were farmers, and they came from farms in the Middle West, the East, or Europe. In the booming eighties, with land values rising, credit was easy, and the farmers confidently expected to retire their obligations. With the advent of the arid and depression years of the nineties, the prospect changed with grim sudden­ness” (160). And foreign competition drove down crop prices.

cross country migrationIn “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940) Franklin D. Roosevelt is pitting his New Deal against a hurting economy. Severe dust storms, general crop failures, and new agricultural methods have taken their toll on the once prosperous Oklahoma farm­land. Being evicted from their share­crop­ping plot, eight souls of the extended Joad family strike out for promised work in California. They pick up their newly paroled son Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) and a former preacher Casy (John Carradine)—he had “lost the call”—and hit the road.


John Steinbeck said “Grapes” can be taken on six levels:
  1. labor relations
  2. Bible parallels
  3. family life
  4. photographic story
  5. documentary
  6. politics
We'll explore Bible parallels here.

The trek of the Joads in an over­burdened truck to escape environmental destruction can be likened to Noah's ark. Noah's family got divided into three lines. (Gen. 6:10) “And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” The Joads like­wise had three divisions: the main family would represent the Biblical Semites descendants of Shem, Tom out on parole would be Ham the youngest son of Noah—perhaps from another mother—, and Japheth—whose name means “enlarge”—is the ex-preacher Casy out to explore his options. Tom was differentiated from the rest in that he had to be covered with a mattress to avoid detection by the authorities, but Grandma (Zeffie Tilbury) had to be displayed in her bed so the authorities could see how sick she was and not delay them.

The Bible actually uses the matter of respect of covering to define the good and bad guy. After the Flood there was an incident, Gen. 9:20-22, where Noah got drunk on wine and was exposed in all his glory to his son Ham who brazenly viewed him so. Noah's other two sons, Shem and Japheth, covered him up, Gen. 9:23. Ham had violated him in some way, Gen. 9:24. Noah's curse puts Ham's youngest son Canaan in a position of servitude, Gen. 9:25. Noah's other two sons Shem, Gen. 9:26, and Japheth, Gen. 9:27, were blessed by Noah. Writer Bodie Hodge (134) quotes “Bible Questions and Answers,” The Golden Age (July 24, 1929): p. 702.

Question: Is there anything in the Bible that reveals the origin of the Negro?

Answer: It is generally believed that the curse which Noah pronounced upon Canaan was the origin of the Black race. Certain it is that when Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren,” he pictured the future of the Colored race.

When Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) upon departing Oklahoma got rid of unnecessary mementos, we see a curio that she valued from The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, 1904. That purchase entailed a long political debate about free states and slave states and the status of the Negro. One may read in George Danger­field, The Era of Good Feelings, about the Missouri debate leading to the Missouri Compromise: (234–5)

Thus we can hardly blame the members of the Sixteenth Congress if … their assault upon Missouri should have failed because they could not bring them­selves to believe in the equality of the Negro. The most humane philosophers had been unable to reach this conclusion.

However low their Okie station, the Joads would naturally have considered them­selves superior to blacks. In California a gasoline attendant observed to his co-worker: “You and me got sense. Them Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. Human being wouldn't live the way they do. Human being couldn't stand to be so miserable.” Above the Okies was the cat operator who demolished their shack, above him his crew boss, then the land owners, and the banks, and the government. We could go all the way up to Noah if we want to assign blame, but he's the one who gave a fallen humanity a chance. They're just operating from economic necessity down the line and letting each look after his own interests.

Ma was concerned that Tom would have been turned into a baddie in prison. In fact he was rather testy with the truck driver who'd given him a lift, and he seemed to be a magnet for attention from the authorities. We may suppose like­wise that Ham had retained some of the evil influence of the ante­di­luvian world, and some­thing in the very bearing of his (Negro) descendants would attract undue attention from the authorities. As much as Ma wanted Tom to be integrated into their main family—as was Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem, or the preacher hitch­hiking a place with the Joads—he had to be separated, i.e. segregated in the end.

Noah's story is an archetype for “The Grapes of Wrath,” but the movie (book) doesn't purport to come up with answers, it just explores the issues.

Production Values

This historical drama, “” (1940) was directed by John Ford. The screen­play was written by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel, The Grapes of Wrath by John Stein­beck. It stars Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, and John Carradine. The cast is fabulous, with Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell giving out­standing per­for­mances. Carradine's preacher was an especially interesting character.

Its rating was iffy for young children, running the gamut:

It had a working title “Highway 66” while the road shots were taken. They didn't want to tip their hand to the locals on account of dicey politics associated with the book. Ford's direction is flawless and Gregg Toland's camera work is an industry triumph. The ending was adjusted to suit a movie audience accustomed to happy ones. The order of the camps the Joads made were arranged to end on a happy note.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This is an extremely likable movie all the way around. It reminded me favorably of the berry-picking camp where I worked the summer I came to Oregon. The people are easy to relate to. I highly recommend this picture.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance as needed. Special effects: Average special effects. Suspense: Some suspenseful moments. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Overall movie rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software, print.

Dangerfield, George. The Era of Good Feelings. New York: Harbinger Books, 1963. Print.

Hodge, Bodie. Tower of Babel: The Cultural History of Our Ancestors. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Pub., 2013. Print.

Williams, T. Harry, Richard N. Current, and Frank Freidel. A History of the United States [since 1865]. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1960. Print.