Why 'The Grapes Of Wrath' And 'The Awakening' Are Great Books

'The Grapes Of Wrath' And 'The Awakening' Changed My Perspective On What Great Literature Encompasses

They're now remarkable for expanding my views and helping me break free from the shackles of literary convention and structure.


In the first semester of my AP Language class, I was confused and exasperated by the number of seemingly useless and poorly written books we had to read. I complained about our class focusing on avant-garde novels instead of the "classics" established to be the model of good literature. Thus, when we were allowed to read a banned or challenged book of our choosing, I happily picked John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" thinking it'd be a good work of fiction I'd enjoy as much as Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" I had read the previous year.

However, as I stumbled through the 455 page novel, I felt like the story became exhaustive. And as I finally reached the conclusion, I was shocked and later on, disappointed. The book had ended abruptly without tying any loose ends or explaining what happened to major characters like Tom Joad. It left the story just as open-ended as it had been when it started. I was annoyed that I had spent so long reading countless pages just for it to end without rewarding me with a structured plot, a climax, a riveting last impression and a fulfilling finality.

And to my further discontent, the openness, ambiguity and heavy symbolism in the conclusion forced me to sit there for hours after I had finished the book contemplating and thinking about what it meant.

I noticed a similar pattern as I began to read "The Awakening" by Kate Chopin. The plot itself was mediocre and somewhat dull to me and the conclusion was one so unexpected, outlandish and random that it was almost comical despite its tragic nature. Again, it was extremely symbolic filled with nuance and uncertainty in addition to never dictating what happened to any of the other characters. After I closed the book, I sat there for an hour or so thinking about what it could mean just like I did with "The Grapes of Wrath."

Both of these works underwhelmed me with their plot and astonished me with the vagueness of their conclusion. And as I began to notice this trend of inconclusive endings over the course of my AP Language class, I then decided to think for another hour about the source of my dissatisfaction. I read literary analyses of these two works, looked them up on Sparknotes and read the prefaces to both novels to try and gain some sense of understanding. And though the prefaces could at times, be pretty boring, they helped me see the literary merit and worth behind both of these novels.

I began to realize that I disliked both for their unfulfilling or unenjoyable quality. However, the reason why I found them unfulfilling or unenjoyable wasn't necessarily because of bad writing but because I hadn't been introduced to many novels that didn't have a traditional story arc. All throughout middle school and early high school, I was taught that all fiction had certain elements such as an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution, etc. And since the books we read contained everything in that list, I had come to expect good literature to be that way as well.

I wasn't used to authors manipulating those standards or omitting them at all. As a freshman, I believed the main purpose of literature was to express a theme or message through the plot which would usually become evident at the conclusion. For me, the conclusion was the most important part of the novel where the plot was tied up and united with a bigger picture that finalized the impact the work had on the reader.

However, I now see that literature can extend far beyond that definition. Challenging literary standards can leave a bigger impact on the reader by undermining their expectations. An inconclusive ending filled with nuance encourages the reader to find their own meaning within the book without explicitly telling them so. And great works such as 'The Awakening' and 'The Grapes of Wrath' do it masterfully, leaving a scene that is shockingly inconclusive yet powerfully charged with emotion and symbolism that still allow for a central message to be expressed.

These kinds of conclusions don't finalize the book or "wrap it up." They allow for the book to continue living as a continuous discussion. And more importantly, they don't use plot or a final scene to express their message but rather the entire novel itself. The ambiguous endings in both novels weren't meant to make a final impression on the reader. They were intentionally unsatisfying to make readers look back or consider the novel as a whole.

Thus, the reason why the plot was so unenjoyable to me was because Kate Chopin and John Steinbeck didn't intend to write a story but offer commentary on the world around them and convey the zeitgeist, culture and attitudes of their time. Though the plot was a tool they used to move audiences and make it more relatable, it was never supposed to be the main focus of the story. Likewise, the conclusions of both never defined the novels. Instead, it made both works more fluid or ongoing. The conclusions were a conduit for a larger message and world detailed throughout the books.

I still sometimes struggle with appreciating these kinds of works. It's hard to draw a distinction between a hastily written ending that's given up on the story and one that's been carefully planned to surprise readers. In addition, the fact that these works don't focus on plot make it more mundane to read and analyze until the ending when one can consider the message of the work as a whole.

However, the books I've been reading so far in my AP Language class have definitely challenged and pushed me to understand these more difficult, symbolic and unorthodox texts. Many of these are considered great because they challenged the status quo. Thus, in my eyes, they're now remarkable for expanding my views and helping me break free from the shackles of literary convention and structure.

Popular Right Now

6 Major Health Benefits Of A Crazy Road Trip

Take that sick road trip you've been wanting to go on, it's actually super good for your health.


We all have a crazy adventure planned, that we live out solely through our Pinterest boards. It wasn't until recently, when I myself took the trip of a lifetime with two of my best friends, that I realized how good road trips can actually be for both your mind AND body.

Driving = Hippocampus Expansion

Taylor Kellogg

Driving, especially long distances, helps your brain with spatial reasoning. A Sunny Afternoon explains that driving actually helps this region of the brain make calculations and increases brain power. Kinda like sudoku... but on wheels.

New places, faces and experiences = MENTAL WORKOUT

Taylor Kellogg

Think of all the cool things you will see, the hundreds of different people you could meet, and the awesome places you'll explore. This overload of new information to process will help your brain build its capacity.


Taylor Kellogg

Fresh air and sunshine is the key to bettering your mind, which leads to bettering your body. Not only do your lungs get a break from pollution-filled air, but the sun boosts the Vitamin D levels in your body to put you in a better mood.

Good company = good mood.

Taylor Kellogg

Choose your travel buddies wisely. Yes, you'll be stuck in the car with them for a LONG period of time, but they also can help with your mental health. The happier you are and the more you laugh, the bigger boost your serotonin levels will get.

You (most likely) will get a lot of good exercise.

Taylor Kellogg

OK, hear me out... I know being cooped up in the car on a road trip isn't very good exercise. It's so important to pick a place that features some sort of physical aspect (I just took a hiking trip to a few national parks in Utah) so you can stretch those legs.

Your mind will thank you for finally going tech-free.

Taylor Kellogg

We're all obsessed with our phones (you are... admit it). Going on a road trip is the perfect way to go unplugged and give your eyes/mind a rest. Less smartphone/email/social media time means less stress.

If you need some backup for convincing your parents to let you go on a road trip, show them this article. You're welcome and travel safe!!!

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

The Movie Watchers

The Types Of People That Watch Movies


This past weekend I saw the movie of the life time, Avengers Endgame. It was the culmination of 10 years in the making and no there will not be any spoilers in this piece of writing. I however noticed the same trends that occurred each time I went to the movies. The I saw the same people, however they were just in different bodily forms. When my eyes were not glued to the screen out of sheer anxiety and thrill, I managed to catch a quick glance at the type of people that plague our good theaters.

To start off, there are always those people that are good people and don't disturb the movie experiences of others. These are the quiet people, the ones who keep their eyes on the movie and focus on nothing else. These are the people we should all aspire to be, with their bloodshot eyes from not blinking as to not miss a single moment of the movie. While I am not always the Eyes Glued To The Screen movie watcher, I can say with assurance that I am a somewhat follower of this rule. I think everyone should learn from these people.

Next comes the traditional On My Phone Like A Idiot in the movie movie watcher. This is by far the most annoying of all the people that come to a movie. Like I came to be entertained and I paid good money for this, I didn't pay 14 dollars and 31 cents to hear some girl gossip on her phone to her friend about how her boyfriend didn't bring her flowers or some middle aged man attempt to close a business deal while his kids were watching the movie. Either leave your business at home or for the courtesy of others, at least leave it outside the theater. No one brings me more anger than these people just because they don't know any common courtesy or manners.

If your at the movie, you might get hungry or thirsty so its normal for people to bring in some food, most typically being popcorn. This is fine and all but don't chew so loudly that it sounds like Jurassic Park to the person next to you. Or don't sip up your drink in such a way that it makes the people around you wonder how your mother raised you. I call this person, the Slurper. Just, be chill and watch the movie. At least your not like the On My Phone Like An Idiot where you're an inconvenience to the whole theater.

Movies are a great way to get distracted from the horrors that are our personal lives. They are solace for some people, giving us a place to escape from reality. So please, don't disturb the kind movie goers who just need a break from that relentless school, job, or even family. Just give them their peace. So sit down, turn off your cellphone, and enjoy the movie.

Related Content

Facebook Comments