How is John Steinbeck’s Novel The Grapes of Wrath Structured?

Updated 28 August, 2023
John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath" is structured as a blend of narrative chapters and intercalary chapters. The narrative chapters follow the Joad family's journey from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. Intercalary chapters provide broader social commentary, focusing on the struggles of other migrant families and the economic challenges of the era.
Detailed answer:

John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath" follows a distinct narrative structure that alternates between narrative chapters and intercalary chapters. This structure enriches the storytelling and provides a multifaceted view of the Great Depression's impact on both individual families and society as a whole.

The novel primarily focuses on the Joad family's journey from their drought-ravaged Oklahoma farm to California in search of a better life. The narrative chapters center on the experiences, challenges, and relationships of the Joads as they navigate the hardships of the journey and the difficulties of finding work and stability in California.

Intercalary chapters, on the other hand, serve as interludes between the narrative chapters. These chapters provide broader societal context and commentary on the economic and social conditions of the time. Steinbeck uses intercalary chapters to explore the struggles of other migrant families, showcase the exploitation of laborers, and address larger issues related to land ownership, industrialization, and inequality.

One of the most iconic intercalary chapters is the one describing the tractors replacing human labor on farms. Steinbeck writes, "And the tractors rolled over the corn, and the blade of the plows cut the roots of the corn, and the steam shovels finished the tearing open of the ground." This chapter illustrates the harsh reality of technological advancement displacing manual labor, a theme that resonates throughout the novel.

The alternating structure of narrative and intercalary chapters enables Steinbeck to provide a comprehensive depiction of the era's challenges. It allows readers to intimately connect with the Joad family while also gaining a broader understanding of the larger societal issues at play. This narrative approach captures the personal struggles within the context of a greater social landscape, making "The Grapes of Wrath" a powerful commentary on human resilience and societal injustice.

In conclusion, John Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath" is structured with a combination of narrative chapters that follow the Joad family's journey and intercalary chapters that provide wider social commentary. This alternating structure masterfully weaves together individual experiences and broader societal issues, offering readers a nuanced exploration of the Great Depression and its impact on both individuals and communities.


  1. 1. Steinbeck, J. (2006). The Grapes of Wrath. Penguin Classics.
    2. Burrows, M. (2017). The Intercalary Chapters of The Grapes of Wrath: Steinbeck's Nonfiction of the 1930s. Steinbeck Review, 14(1), 7-16. doi:10.1353/str.2017.0002
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