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Films >> Grapes of Wrath (1940) >>

John Ford’s Oscar-nominated film The Grapes of Wrath is based on John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel bearing the same name. Nunnally Johnson wrote the adapted screenplay, altering many major concepts. The same basic premise of the Joad family tirelessly searching for work in California is kept, but many key thematic elements are changed. Such controversial scenes referencing socialism and unfair business practices as the complaint about the unfair practices of a used car-salesman, the argument with the camp owner about overcharging, and the dishonest scales on the fruit ranch were removed from the film. The film also removes many racy scenes referencing sexual activity, savagery, and violence. A recurring motif throughout the novel is the presence of animal imagery, but this motif is completely left out of the film. Steinbeck’s vulgar language is also cleaned up in the film adaptation. In place of these major tropes, Johnson plays up the theme of family and the importance of land in the movie. Many critics argue that these alterations change the entire message of the film. Some believe that the film provides a much more optimistic ending than the novel. Unlike the novel, the film also suggests that people should accept their place in society rather than try to change or adapt. At first glance, the film may seem like a very close replica of the novel. A closer look, however, will show a vastly different work with different themes and messages.

(See Lyndsey Collins's longer issue essay on the comparison of novel to film and several other issue essays that deal with attacks on the accuracy of Steinbeck's novel.)