"The Grapes of Wrath," Vocabulary from Chapters 16-19

Desperation and poverty drive the Joad family from the home they have always known in "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. Seeking new jobs in California, the book follows the family as they journey not just physically, but emotionally, to what they hope is a new beginning. Learn this word list that focuses on family.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1-8, Chapters 9-15, Chapters 16-19, Chapters 20-24, Chapters 25-30

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. weariness
    temporary loss of strength and energy from hard work
    Ma, beside him, had folded her hands in her lap, had retired into a resistance against weariness.
  2. kin
    related by blood
    We got almost a kin bond.
  3. reassure
    give or restore confidence in
    “Don’t you worry,” Tom reassured her. “We’re gonna find ya. California ain’t the whole world.”
  4. lax
    wanting in strength or firmness or resilience
    The whole group watched the revolt. They watched his lax hands to see the fists form.
    "Lax" also means "without rigor or strictness"--despite threats to whup Ma and the younger children, Pa is shown mostly as a loving husband and father who tries his best to provide for his family; his attitude toward discipline could be described as lax. Here in the example sentence, his hands, which are normally strong and firm from manual labor, are lax because he's helplessly surprised at Ma's sassy revolt.
  5. astonishment
    the feeling that accompanies something extremely surprising
    Ma looked in astonishment at the bar of iron.
    In addition to wielding a weapon, Ma scolds, "What we got lef’ in the worl’? Nothin’ but us. Nothin’ but the folks." This fierceness astonishes her (Latin root is "tonare" which means "to thunder"), yet vividly emphasizes the lengths a mother would go to in order to keep her family together and safe.
  6. partial
    showing favoritism
    “Ma’s awful partial to you,” said Al.
  7. querulous
    habitually complaining
    Pa observed querulously, “That Rosasharn is gettin’ awful scary an’ nimsy-mimsy.”
  8. despair
    the feeling that nothing will turn out well
    And it might be that a sick child threw despair into the hearts of twenty families, of a hundred people; that a birth there in a tent kept a hundred people quiet and awestruck through the night and filled a hundred people with the birth-joy in the morning.
  9. establish
    set up or found
    Every night a world created, complete with furniture—friends made and enemies established; a world complete with braggarts and with cowards, with quiet men, with humble men, with kindly men.
  10. gradual
    proceeding in small stages
    At first the families were timid in the building and tumbling worlds, but gradually the technique of building worlds became their technique.
  11. transcend
    go beyond the scope or limits of
    The families learned what rights must be observed—the right of privacy in the tent; the right to keep the past black hidden in the heart; the right to talk and to listen; the right to refuse help or to accept, to offer help or to decline it; the right of son to court and daughter to be courted; the right of the hungry to be fed; the rights of the pregnant and the sick to transcend all other rights.
  12. monstrous
    shockingly brutal or cruel
    And the families learned, although no one told them, what rights are monstrous and must be destroyed: the right to intrude upon privacy, the right to be noisy while the camp slept, the right of seduction or rape, the right of adultery and theft and murder.
  13. ostracism
    the act of excluding someone from society by general consent
    And with the laws, the punishments—and there were only two—a quick and murderous fight or ostracism; and ostracism was the worst.
  14. integrate
    make into a whole or make part of a whole
    In the long hot light, they were silent in the cars moving slowly westward; but at night they integrated with any group they found.
  15. yearning
    prolonged unfulfilled desire or need
    Then water in the evening was the yearning, and food over the fire.
  16. courtesy
    a polite, respectful, or considerate act
    The car pulled off the road and stopped, and because others were there first, certain courtesies were necessary.
  17. elaborate
    developed or executed with care and in minute detail
    And they made elaborate acquaintanceship gestures.
  18. prospect
    the possibility of future success
    And young girls found each other and boasted shyly of their popularity and their prospects.
    "Prospect" also means "someone who is considered for something"--the "someone" here is a young man and the "something" is marriage; this is supported by the linking of the words "prospects" and "popularity" and the setting of the novel in the 1930s, when the possibilities for women succeeding outside the home were slim.
  19. gracious
    characterized by charm and good taste
    And each wished he could pick a guitar, because it is a gracious thing.
  20. vehemence
    intensity or forcefulness of expression
    Ruthie said, with soft vehemence, “California. This here’s California an’ we’re right in it!”
  21. abruptly
    quickly and without warning
    “It ain’t no use,” Noah said. “I’m sad, but I can’t he’p it. I got to go.” He turned abruptly and walked downstream along the shore.
    "Abruptly" comes from the Latin "rumpere" which means "to break"--although the family was already falling apart with the death of Grampa, Noah's abrupt desertion creates a deliberate rupture in the family. But traveling with the other migrants on the same road introduces the Joads to a new vision of family.
  22. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    Granma called imperiously, “Will! Will! You come here, Will.”
  23. exhortation
    a communication intended to urge or persuade to take action
    From some little distance there came the sound of the beginning meeting, a sing-song chant of exhortation.
  24. decorous
    characterized by propriety and dignity and good taste
    Tom looked down the line of tents and he saw Ruthie and Winfield standing in front of a tent in decorous conversation with someone inside.
  25. beckon
    summon with a wave, nod, or some other gesture
    Ma beckoned Pa into the cover of the tarpaulin and spoke softly to him.
  26. flighty
    unpredictably excitable (especially of horses)
    Tom said, “I don’ know what’s got into Ma. She’s flighty as a dog with a flea in his ear.
    "Flighty" also means "guided by whim and fancy"--this definition is the opposite of Ma's practical nature: her flightiness here is mostly nervous anxiety that the inspection officers might stop them on account of Granma; it could also be a pun on her focus on the family's flight across the desert to California, where they can start a new life.
  27. nebulous
    lacking definition or definite content
    And whereas the wants of the Californians were nebulous and undefined, the wants of the Okies were beside the roads, lying there to be seen and coveted: the good fields with water to be dug for, the good green fields, earth to crumble experimentally in the hand, grass to smell, oaten stalks to chew until the sharp sweetness was in the throat.
  28. goad
    stab or urge on as if with a pointed stick
    And such a man drove along the roads and knew temptation at every field, and knew the lust to take these fields and make them grow strength for his children and a little comfort for his wife. The temptation was before him always. The fields goaded him, and the company ditches with good water flowing were a goad to him.
  29. wretched
    characterized by physical misery
    How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children?
  30. repression
    control by holding down
    And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

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