The Grapes of Wrath continues to influence readers and inspire student discussions, even though the history it addresses is far in the past. It is still one of the most widely read novels in both high school and college classrooms. The novel has even continued to prompt further research: just recently, the Steinbeck Institute commissioned researchers to trace the path of the Joads. They reported that little has changed -- a traveler who sets out from Oklahoma and heads for California is met with wide expanses and difficult terrain, much the same landscape that the Joads encountered. In more ways than one, The Grapes of Wrath is timeless.
Chapters 19 and 21 act like a refrain in their repetition of the novel’s social criticism. Both present history—especially California’s history—as a battle between the rich and the poor. Founded by squatters who stole the land from Mexicans, California has been the setting for a series of desperate measures taken by “frantic hungry men.” The landowners fear that history will repeat itself, and that the migrant farmers, who crave land and sustenance, will take their livelihood from them. The migrants, however, seeing acre upon acre of unused land, dream of tending just enough of it to support their families. The migrants’ simple desire to produce, and the landowners’ resistance, receives particularly poignant illustration in the tale of the man who plants a few carrots and turnips in a fallow field.