How to do an Film Adaption : Case Study : John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath

In the process of adapting John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath from the novel to the play, Frank Galati, the writer of the play centered only on the Joad family characters and their own circumstances while giving little voice to the structure of the intercalary chapters in the novel. Readers could say that they don’t fall in love with the characters after reading the play simply because so much structural dynamics of the novel was left out and not adapted from the original text that shaped the novel of Grapes of Wrath.

Was Galati’s adaptation of Grapes of Wrath successful as an adaptation? Yes and no. Mostly, the play summarized the characters for adaptation very well but Galati failed in using other literary devices to shape the characters lives more dramatically.

When examining the primary themes in both the novel and the play of Grapes of Wrath, the successes of adaptation comes clear when the same themes that are apparent in Steinbeck’s novel are clear. Examples of themes brought out from the novel successfully are the importance of the land, the strength of women and the importance of family.

Frank Galati took much dialogue word for word from the Steinbeck novel. The theme of importance of the land in the play is presented in a quote from the novel. In this quote, from the novel, it parallels all people, especially the Joads who make a living on this land for a long time, and who value the land as much as Pa Joad, Grampa Joad and Tom Joad. “ They were moving, questing people were migrants now. Those families, which had lived on a little piece of land, who had lived and died on forty acres, had now the whole west to rove in. And they scampered about, looking for work; and the highways were streams of people and the ditch banks were lines of people.” (Steinbeck, 385) (Galati, 70)

Thematically, the adapted play shares the same with the novel, making this a great adapted theme to explore people’s struggle with the land and all the life that Steinbeck had written into the novel.

The strength of women was a commonly examined theme Galati chose from the novel. As Pa gave in to the power of the banks, and lost his land, he also lost his pride and spirit. Ma emerges with a hard as bricks mentality that kept the family intact. In a scene where she is talking with Rose of Sharon about town life vs. country life and Sharon is thinking about moving, Ma says “ Ain’t you gonna stay with us – with the family?” (Steinbeck, 224) (Galati, 40) As Galati kept with the exact dialogue from Steinbeck’s novel, he reinforced again and again Ma’s insistence of keeping the family together, protecting the family from harm, helping the Wilson’s (in the novel only) and guiding Tom and Sharon towards adulthood while keeping the family intact.

Another Theme that is reflected in the adaptation of Steinbeck’s play and novel was the unifying idea of the importance of family and the love that is shared. Ma is again the example of this theme as she talks about family togetherness when the Joads are getting ready to move to California and Pa asks if they can feed another mouth, Ma says “ I never heerd tell of no Joads or Hazlett’s, neither, ever refusin’ food and shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked.” (Steinbeck, 139) (Galati, 25) This moment that Galati captures in the dialogue of this novel and adapts, shows the warmness of Ma created by Steinbeck to open arms to another to join their family and thematically sets up further scenes where Ma is selfless helping others in support of her family and invites them.

While Galati made a great summary of all the characters and themes related to the Joad family, he failed in this adaptation by not adapting many structural points created by Steinbeck to enhance the novel’s story. He did not adapt the characters of the Wilson’s, which helped the structure of the character of Grampa and further his character in the story. Galati also did not include the adventures of the turtle, which foreshadows the Joads plight and humanizes it. The ending also, fails because although Steinbeck’s ending wasn’t satisfactory, Galati also fails to bring necessary catharticism to the ending that was needed for a reader to fall in love with the characters at the end of the story. Ma says in the play “Hurry up. There’s a big rain a comin” (Galati, 86). Much action in these tender moments of the end was not entertained and the literary devices in the novel could have been used to end necessary subplots of some characters cause a reader not to truly feel for the characters at the end.

When analyzing the failures of adaptation of the failures of the Galati play to the original source of Steinbeck, the failures comes clear when we examine these flaws.

In Chapter 13 in the novel, Grampa dies in the Wilson’s tent. The Joads had met the Wilson’s in the novel when their car had broken down on the way to California as well. The Wilson’s let the Joad’s their tent for Grampa, so he can pass away peacefully. This occurrence in the novel creates a bond between the families that encompass and only strengthen the themes of family togetherness, so there is no reason why Galati didn’t include this in his adaptation. By not including the Wilson’s, Galati failed to elaborate and build a dramatic character of Grampa. In the play, Grampa just dies on a bed with no explanation on page 27 in the play. Also, a reader feels no connection to Grampa and feels no sorrow for Grampa or the Joads in this manner and cheats the audience out of this dramatic structure set in by Steinbeck.

Another failure of Galati in this adaptation was not mentioning the turtle and his journey, which appear on page 20 of the novel. “Over the grass at the roadside, a land turtle crawled” and he crossed an embankment and “as the embankment grew steeper and steeper, the more frantic were the efforts of the turtle. (Steinbeck, 20-21) On page 22, a woman appeared driving, seen the turtle and dogged by running off the highway. The efforts of the turtle were a metaphor for the life of the Joads. Tom Joad later in the book picked up the turtle and brought it with him and let it go further in the story. Galati failed to use this device to exemplify the life of Joads in a symbolic way to create a foreshadowing effect for the reader of the play. If the characters were compared to other personified living creatures, this would only improve the dramatic effects of the play adaptation and if Galati would of used more of Steinbeck’s literary techniques, readers would feel more strongly about the individual Joad family members and them as a whole.

Lastly, at the ending of the play, when Rose of Sharon was giving breast milk to the old man might be a good adaptation to the original source material, it doesn’t not strengthen the end of the story. In the last defining moments of the play, there wasn’t much catharthicism apparent, but neither was the novel. If Steinbeck’s ending was her breast-feeding an old man, Galati could have done better. He could of closed the ending totally different by ending the play much more upbeat than the novel by answering the thematic questions of the importance of the land, the strength of women and the importance of family that were adapted so well from the Steinbeck novel.

Galati’s ability to capture word for word dialogue of the characters captures the essence of the characters that Steinbeck had created. In this way the play was adapted well from the original source material. The structure of some parts of the novel could have been adapted to make the play a complete success. Instead we are left with an ok adaptation and a less than powerful ending.


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