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The Grapes of Wrath as a Multigenre, Multivocal Text

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by Kris Sieloff, Baltimore City College High School, Baltimore, MD, 2009


The following lesson is intended as an extension of the close reading and analysis of the writer’s technique in constructing The Grapes of Wrath. This approach was inspired by the article, “Steinbeck’s Human Ecology: The Intercalary Chapters of The Grapes of Wrath,” as well as the method of dialogic pedagogy presented by Prof. Mary Adler in one of our institute workshops. An emphasis on the intercalary chapters provides an exploration of Steinbeck’s illustration of the phalanx theory, the tension between the universal and particular, or the individual and community in Grapes of Wrath. As students analyze Steinbeck’s novel for the diversity of languages and world views, they will engage in their own collective and dialogic search for meaning through group textual analysis, culminating in a Socratic seminar. The final assessment, the multigenre project, requires students to extend their understanding and engagement with the text and reinforces the overarching theme of the lesson.

Grade Level



  1. Students will interpret Steinbeck’s Theory of the Phalanx and analyze its appearance in the intercalary chapters (those chapters in between the Joad family narrative) of The Grapes of Wrath.
  2. Students will collaborate to analyze the diversity of languages within the intercalary chapters.
  3. Students will engage in Socratic discussion about the philosophy the novel appears to advance, about the tensions between the universal and particular, and the role of the individual in relation to community.
  4. Students will compose a multigenre project consisting of works that illustrate themes they identify within the intercalary chapters.


  1. The teacher will provide background on Steinbeck the Reporter informing Steinbeck the Novelist using excerpts from Steinbeck’s journalistic renderings of the migrant experience. Suggested texts include: “Dubious Battle in California,” “The Harvest Gypsies: Squatters’ Camps,” or “Starvation Under the Orange Trees” from America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction. Discussion of these texts should focus on the writer’s style, journalistic as opposed to prosaic or poetic.
  2. Definition: What is the Theory of the Phalanx? The teacher should introduce the following texts and students will explain the Phalanx Theory in their own words.
    1. Steinbeck’s letters to Carlton Sheffield and George Albee [Letter to Carlton A. Sheffield, June 21, 1933 and Letter to George Albee 1933 in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters].
    2. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
    3. Merriam-Webster definition of “phalanx”
  3. In preparation for the group analysis activity, the teacher will introduce the concept of Mikhail Bakhtin’s heteroglossia, or the diversity and stratification of languages or voices within the text [in Bakhtin, Mikhail. (1935). “Discourse in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981]:

    “The novel orchestrates all its themes, the totality of the world of objects and ideas depicted and expressed in it, by means of the social diversity of speech types and by the differing individual voices that flourish under such conditions” (Bakhtin 263). It is important to remember that heteroglossia is opposed to unitary language, and this opposition leads to tensions within the text. Examples of heteroglossia include different stratas or registers, such as social, professional, dialects, jargon, and the language of authority. In addition, according to Bakhtin, the author will identify a “common language” to express the worldviews of a given social group, but the author will maintain a distance from this group; thus, the style of the novel may fluctuate, from journalistic to poetic, for example. "
  4. Group Assignment: What voices do you hear in this chapter, and what can we learn from the variety of voices? Students will be divided into groups of 3-4 students; each group would be assigned a pair of chapters (Chap 1 & 3, 5 & 7, 9 &11,12 & 14, 15 &17, 19 &21, 23 & 25, 27 & 29) for analysis using the following chart.
Types of Discourse (Heteroglossia) Examples: Voice of authority, folk wisdom, voice of narrator, voice of author, multi-voiced dialogue, jargon, juxtaposition or conflicting language, silence; literary devices such as personification, imagery, parallelism, repetition, allegory or allusion Quotes Themes, beliefs, or worldviews revealed in the language of the text
  1. After completion of the group analysis activity, the class will conduct a Socratic Seminar focusing on the following concepts: Based on your group’s analysis of the assigned chapters, what beliefs does the novel seem to present about humanity? Does the narrative voice appear to be endorsing a specific world view? What tensions are apparent in these chapters? What themes have emerged from your analysis of these chapters?
  2. The teacher will present a variety of written, visual, and auditory texts to inspire student thinking as they prepare for the final assessment. (See “Multigenre Project Models/Ideas”).


Select a theme from our analysis of the intercalary chapters and construct a multigenre project containing at least four genres. Examples: ballad, prose poem, dialogue, collage, news article, diary entry, scrapbook page, editorial or letter to the editor, political cartoon, storyboard or comic strip, advertisement, video. You must include endnotes explaining the selection of each genre and the piece’s relationship to the theme you have selected.

Additional Resources


  • Adler, Mary. “Eliciting Classroom Voices: A Dialogic Steinbeck Curriculum.” Lecture and Powerpoint Presentation, NEH Steinbeck Institute, July 2009.
  • Shillinglaw, Susan and Jackson J. Benson, Eds. America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction. New York: Viking Penguin, 2002.