Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

In John Ford's seminal film, an adaptation of John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, with documentary-like photography of cinematographer Gregg Toland, about migrant tenant farmer Okies in the Depression-Era:

  • the opening scene of a flat, paved highway road in rural Oklahoma lined by telephone poles, focusing on a small figure walking towards a crossroads; the man, later identified as Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), asked a nervous truck-driver for a lift - he had been released from prison (on early parole after serving a short prison term of four years for homicide) and was hitchhiking on his way home to his family's 40-acre sharecropping farm
  • during his long trek home, Tom's dramatic meeting with slightly mad, apostate, itinerant ex-preacher Casy (John Carradine), who described his spiritual loss ("I lost the spirit. I got nothin' to preach about no more, that's all. I ain't so sure of things")
  • after arriving at the dark, wind-blown Joad cabin, Tom was stunned to find it abandoned and deserted - from the shadows emerged a crazy, "touched," dispossessed tenant farmer - former neighbor Muley Graves (John Qualen) who became deranged after surrendering his land; Tom learned that his own family, two weeks earlier, was forcibly evicted to the farm of Uncle John, but they would be there only short-term; Muley described what was happening: "Everybody's got to get off. Everybody's leavin', goin' out to California. Your folks, my folks, everybody's folks" - he blamed everyone's problems on the weather's dust storms: "The dusters. They start it anyways. Blowin' like this year after year. Blowin' the land away. Blowin' the crops away. And blowin' us away now"
  • the two flashbacks and speeches of Muley about losing the land; in the first flashback, he remembered how he, one of the dispossessed, was driven off the land by the Shawnee Land and Cattle Company, and he told about what his lost land meant to him: ("There ain't nobody gonna push me off my land! My grandpaw took up this land seventy years ago. My paw was born here. We was all born on it. An' some of us was killed on it. (Muley squatted down and fingered the dust of the farm he had just lost.) An' some of us died on it. That's what makes it arn. Bein' born on it and workin' on it and dyin', dyin' on it. An' not no piece of paper with writin' on it")
  • in his second flashback, Muley - with his shotgun - powerlessly confronted a house-demolishing caterpillar, and explained why he still remained afterwards: "There wasn't nothin' to eat, but I couldn't leave. Somethin' just wouldn't let me. So now I just wander around and sleep wherever I am. I used to tell myself that I was lookin' out for things, so that when the folks come back everything'd be all right. But I know'd it wasn't true. There ain't nothin' to look out fer. There ain't nobody ever comin' back. They're gone! And me, I'm just an old graveyard ghost. That's all in the world I am"
  • at the Joad household (now residing temporarily at Uncle John's farm), the sequence of Tom's nostalgic reunion with his mother Ma Joad (Oscar-winning Jane Darwell) in the yard - she was concerned about his well-being after being hardened by prison life: "Did they hurt ya, son? Did they hurt ya and make ya mean mad?...Sometimes they do somethin' to ya. They hurt ya and ya get mad and then ya get mean. Then they hurt ya again and ya get meaner and meaner til you ain't no boy nor man anymore, just a walkin' chunk of mean mad. Did they hurt ya that way son?...Why, I don't want no mean son"
Tom's Reunion with Mother
Handbill for Employment in California
Ma Joad Burning Letters and Keepsakes (Holding Earrings to Her Ears)
  • the scene of widowed Uncle John (Frank Darien) who enthusiastically showed off a handbill advertising high wages for workers in California to harvest fruits and vegetables, their only alternative to facing eviction the following day
  • the pre-dawn, candle-lit scene of Ma Joad, accompanied by the plaintive strains of "Red River Valley" on an accordion, pausing to moon over and then burn her letters and souvenir-keepsakes (a newspaper clipping, a postcard, a china souvenir, and earrings) in the stove (including the image of her holding earrings to her ears and viewing herself in a mirror)
  • the departure at daybreak in the Joad's dilapidated truck before a long drive from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma to California during the Depression, with the promise of employment; Ma delivered a resolute speech about their leaving: "We're goin' to California, ain't we? All right then, let's go to California...I never had my house pushed over before. Never had my family stuck out on the road. Never had to lose everything I had in life"
  • the scene of the lunchroom waitress at a New Mexico filling station and truck stop diner who sold candy at reduced price ("two for a penny" instead of "a nickel a piece candy") to the migrant Joad children
  • the sequences of their arrival at three contrasting camps in California - the Hooverville Transient-Migrant Camp (14 minutes duration), the Keene Fruit Ranch (22 minutes duration), and the Farmworkers' Wheat Patch Government Camp (25 minutes duration) - mostly overcrowded and with exploitative work practices, exemplified in the scene of a land contractor hiring migrant laborers after driving into the Hooverville camp in a shiny convertible and offering cheap-wages employment picking fruit
  • the fateful scene of Casy's death (due to his organizing strikers) by club-wielding thugs at the Keene Ranch, and Tom's defensive reaction to the vicious attack by attacking and killing an authoritarian "tin-shield" guard in retaliation - another violation of his parole in addition to his migration - causing him to prepare to flee from his family
  • the sequence of fugitive Tom's eloquent farewell to his heartbroken Ma with the words: ("Well, maybe it's like Casy says. A fella ain't got a soul of his own - just a little piece of a big soul. The one big soul that belongs to everybody... Then it don't matter. I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere - wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready. And when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too")
  • Tom Joad's march up a distant hillside - seen as a tiny image silhouetted against the morning sky; an outcast, he disappeared into the morning light - forever
  • in the final scene, the indomitable matriarch Ma's inspiring and meditative words in the front seat of a pickup truck, that she would hold the family together, and she vowed that no force could destroy the 'people's' will in their resilient, ever-moving search of work: ("We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out. They can't lick us. And we'll go on forever, Pa... 'cause... we're the people")
Tom's "I'll Be There" Speech
Silhouetted March Up Hillside
Ma Joad: "We're the people"

Hitchhiking Figure Walking Toward Crossroads and Getting Lift From Truck Driver

Tom Joad with Preacher Casy

The Deserted Joad Homestead

Muley's Protest: "There ain't nobody gonna push me off my land!"

Ma's Resolute Speech

The Long Journey to California

Candy Sold at Reduced Price

Exploitation of Workers at a Migrant Camp by an Employer

The Joads' Arrival at the Keene Ranch, An Oppressive Labor Camp


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z