John Steinbeck’s novel about a sharecropper family fleeing “the Dust Bowl” of Oklahoma for California was published in April 1939. That same year jazz singer Billie Holliday performed “Strange Fruit” – a song about lynching -- at Café Society in Greenwich Village.  On Easter Sunday morning, contralto Marian Anderson performed before a crowd of more than 75,000 at Lincoln Memorial after being denied permission to sing at Constitution Hall before an integrated audience by the Daughters of the America (DAR). That summer of 1939, the New York World’s Fair opened, with the theme “Building the World of Tomorrow.” In December 1939, Atlanta hosted a grand four-day premiere of Gone with the Wind. The film would be one of the ten movies nominated for an Academy Award in what has been called “Hollywood’s Greatest Year.”

The Grapes of Wrath, an acclaimed and controversial novel, had its movie premiere the next year. By then, Europe was at war, and the war-time economy of the United States was about to boom. But memories of the hardships of the 1930s would define a generation.

Timeline of 1939 (with embedded newsreel clips)

The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945 (Library of Congress)

The Making of The Grapes of Wrath|0/Behind-the-Camera-The-Grapes-of-Wrath.html

VIDEOS (overview of the Great Depression and the response of the Roosevelt administration):

VIDEOS (music from 1939 and 2008):

VIDEOS (about the film):

The Grapes of Wrath 1940 Official Trailer (Oscar Movie trailer about making of the movie)

Critic’s Picks: ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (The New York Times, November 2008)
The critic comments on the relevance of the film to hard times of 2008.

National Steinbeck Center
The Center is celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath.

Current exhibit on “New Deal Arts & Culture” on Libraries, Indiana University, Bloomington website
This is an extensive collection of resources, including bibliographies, lists of popular films and documentaries, and links to other sites.


  • Crouse, J. M. (1986). The homeless transient in the Great Depression: New York State, 1929-1941. Albany: State University Press of New York.
  • Dickstein, M. (2004). Steinbeck and the Great Depression. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 103: 111-131.
  • Lingo, M. (2003). Forbidden fruit: The banning of The Grapes of Wrath in the Kern County Free Library. Libraries & Culture, 38 (4): 351-377.
    The article includes the resolution from the Kern County, California board of supervisors who banned the book for its “profanity, lewd, foul, and obscene language unfit for use in American homes” and because Steinbeck had “falsely” implied that many of the citizens of the county lived in a “vicious and filthy manner.”
  • MacKaye, M. (1948, April 24). The shame of Oklahoma. Saturday Evening Post, 220(43): 16+
    This is an article about the penitentiary at McAlester, the prison from which the fictional Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath has been paroled. The “shame” includes the leather goods business that prisoners were able to run from behind bars and their “leaves of absence.”
  • Neilson, J. & Meyerson, G. (2008). Hookwormridden heirs or good stock?: Confronting social crisis in Light in August. Mississippi Quarterly, 61(3): 435-460.
    The authors analyze William Faulkner’s treatment of the Depression in his novel.
  • Shockley, M. S. (1944). The reception of The Grapes of Wrath in Oklahoma. American Literature, 15(4):351-361.
  • Teisch, J. B. (1998). From the Dust Bowl to California: The beautiful fraud. Midwest Quarterly, 39: 153-72.