Stuff That Happens Before the Play 

  • Throughout the 1930s, the United States struggles economically under the Great Depression.
  • Simultaneously, severe and widespread drought in addition to poor farming practices has turned the southern Great Plains region from cropland to desert. 
  • Dust Bowl farmers are giving up or are being forced out of their homes by the banks – for many, the only hope of survival is exodus. 

Stuff That Happens During the Play 

  • After four years in prison, Tom Joad is paroled and going back to his family home. Along the way, he finds deserted and dusted-out farms, and is joined by the former reverend Jim Casy
  • Tom and Casy discover the Joad farm abandoned. Neighbor Muley is there, who explains that Tom’s family has relocated nearby to his uncle’s house. 
  • The Joads reunite at Uncle John’s house, and they tell Tom what he’s missed. His sister Rose of Sharon is married and pregnant, his younger brother Al can now work on cars, his youngest siblings Ruthie and Winfield aren’t babies anymore, and his elder brother Noah is the same as he ever was.
  • Pa Joad tells Tom of the family’s plan to travel west to California to secure farm work, and they decide to head out right away. Casy asks to go with them, and Ma Joad insists that they take him.
  • Grampa Joad passes away shortly after the family gets out on the road. Despite grief for Grampa and worry about the journey ahead, they carry on.
  • In a roadside camp, the Joads and Casy experience their first taste of discrimination. They begin to see that the migrant experience is more common than they realized. A man returning from the West warns them that California is unlikely to offer opportunities as advertised.
  • After hundreds of miles on Route 66, they set up for a short rest at the Colorado River. The family shrinks again when Noah decides to remain there.
  • The Joads cross the Mojave Desert, but Granma passes away before they get to the other side. Having begun with a group of thirteen, they are now down to ten.
  • They finally reach the green valleys and lush fields of California’s farm country. Physically, emotionally, and financially exhausted, Casy and the remaining Joads hold out hope for the opportunity to prosper.


  • The struggle to find work, resistance to oppression, and symbols of endurance and hope ensue.