John Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer prize for his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath on 6 May 1940. The Grapes of Wrath features ex-convict Tom Joad who is paroled from McAlester prison, where he was imprisoned after being convicted of homicide. On his way home, Tom meets former preacher Jim Casy, whom he remembers from his childhood, and the two travel together. When they arrive at Tom’s childhood farm home, they find it deserted. Their old neighbor, Muley Graves, tells them the family has gone to stay at Uncle John Joad’s home nearby. Graves tells them that the banks have evicted all the farmers, but he refuses to leave the area.
The next morning, Tom and Casy go to Uncle John’s where Tom finds his family preparing to leave and discovers that after their crops destroyed by the Dust Bowl, the family had defaulted on their bank loans, and their farm was repossessed. Consequently, the Joads have no option but to seek work in California. Although leaving Oklahoma would violate his parole, Tom decides it is worth the risk, and invites Casy to join him and his family. Traveling west on Route 66, the Joad family find the road crowded with other migrants. In makeshift camps, and hear many stories from others, some returning from California. Sadly Granpa dies during the journey and they bury him in a field; then Granma dies close to the California state line. Then both Noah (the eldest Joad son) and Connie Rivers (the husband of the pregnant Joad daughter, Rose of Sharon) split from the family.
Upon Reaching California, they find conditions are not much better, the wages are low, and workers are exploited to the point of starvation. The big corporate farmers are in collusion, and smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices. Weedpatch Camp, one of the clean, utility-supplied camps operated by the Resettlement Administration, a New Deal agency, offers better conditions, but does not have enough resources to care for all the needy families. Nonetheless, as a Federal facility, the camp protects the migrants from harassment by California deputies.
In response to the exploitation, Casy becomes a labor organizer and tries to set up a labor union. The remaining Joads work as strikebreakers in a peach orchard, where Casy is involved in a strike that eventually turns violent. When Tom Joad witnesses Casy’s fatal beating, he kills the attacker and flees as a fugitive. The Joads later leave the orchard for a cotton farm, where Tom is at risk of being arrested for the homicide. Tom leaves promising to work for the oppressed. Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn. Then the Joads’ dwelling is flooded, so they move to higher ground where they shelter from the flood in an old barn and assist a young boy and his father, who are dying of starvation.