John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" is a classic work of American literature that portrays the lives of American farmers during the Great Depression. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel focuses on the Joad family, who are forced to move from their home because of the Dust Bowl. Steinbeck's use of imagery and personification of the land helps the reader understand what it was like for people in the Depression era and the struggles that Midwestern farmers dealt with during that time.
The land itself is a large part of the plot in "The Grapes of Wrath" because the Joad family relies on it to make a living. They are farmers. When the land becomes so dusty and dry it is no longer fit to live on, the characters feel that the land itself has turned on them. This is an example of personification; the farmland is non-living, but the Joads ascribe the human quality of treachery to it when it no longer will grow crops.
Cotton and Crops
In Chapter 5, a landowner says to his tenants, "You know what cotton does to the land; robs it, sucks all the blood out of it." This is personification; cotton is non-human but here is given human traits. Cotton cannot literally suck blood from the land; the man means that the cotton takes the nutrients from the soil, making it very difficult to grow other crops once the cotton is gone.
Animals are important figures in "The Grapes of Wrath" and are personified throughout the novel. The Joads' dog, for example, is given human qualities, such as stubbornness and tenacity. He keeps his silent vigil, observing all that the Joads observe on the journey. When he is killed, the family mourns his passing. At one point, Pa Joad speaks of a coyote, saying he is "sneaky" and "wise;" characteristics that are impossible for a non-human.
In the beginning of the novel, the dust is said to creep into the house at night. Obviously, dust cannot literally creep because has no limbs. The dust is personified as a living entity, something that has consciously intruded on the Joads' lives and the lives of their neighbors. Elsewhere, the dust is described as being self-aware.
The road that the Joads travel on toward California is their lifeline; it leads them from the life they knew to an uncertain future. The Joads and their fellow travelers are relying on the road to get them there safely and regard it as a conscious thing. Only the road knows what dangers lie ahead. The road, of course, cannot really know these things. The Joads, however, take comfort in thinking that it does, and the road gives them some measure of hope.
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