Essay Questions Grapes Of Wrath

I’m familiar with as a staple in AP Language classes that had their roots in American literature courses.It’s still possible to invest the time to read the book with students while preparing them for the exam.

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The synthesis essay calls on students to use research materials in forming a coherent argument; there are a number of topics in the novel that could be grouped with outside readings to provide the basis for such an essay.

It’s an assignment that would lead students to examine the novel’s themes more thoroughly and explore their significance more deeply.

In the novel, Steinbeck charts his characters’ growth from looking after their own self-interests to caring for the good of the whole, depicts their movement from “I to We.” This is a topic with a rich tradition in American literature from which to draw: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”; the poetry of Walt Whitman; aspects of Mark Twain’s , a staple of early high school years with an arresting counterpoint to Steinbeck’s view of the group behavior.

For an interesting evolutionary biological view, try Natalie Angier’s “Of Altruism, Heroism and Evolution’s Gifts” from the September 18, 2001 that could make for engaging work: the crippling effects of guilt, sin and shame, as illustrated by Uncle John’s condition, the nasty shopkeeper that Ma converts in Chapter 26 and misery-dealing evangelicals; the nature of work, both satisfying and alienating, seen, again, in the alienated tractor driver in contrast with the pleasures of hefting a pickaxe in Chapter 22; the dangers and uses of anger, providing people with the righteous outrage to fight on bookended in the first and penultimate chapters but worrying Ma that it will reduce Tom to a “walkin’ chunk a mean-mad”; the advisability of taking life one day at a time and going with the flow suggested in Tom’s repeated strategy of just putting one foot in front of another and Ma’s ability to ride easily in the truck and adjust to the life changes, the latter explained to Pa in Chapter 28.

In another variation, the prompt could be focused to mirror some of the AP rhetorical analysis exercises.

For example, students could analyze how Steinbeck conveys his criticism of the used car salesmen in Chapter 7, or his view of technology as expressed in the depiction of the tractor in Chapter 5.

I’ll assume that most students would have been introduced to rhetorical analysis already.

The interchapters represent a stylistic tour de force on Steinbeck’s part, kind of the writerly equivalent of a jazz musician referencing Dixieland, swing, bop, and free jazz in a concept album.

Rhetorical analysis promotes close reading, and the interchapters lend themselves well to such analysis.

They are rich in imagery and figurative language, widely range in tone, and employ syntax to varied and dramatic effect.


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