8 Great Pop-Culture References to The Grapes of Wrath

With the so-called Great Recession in its third year now, we’ve had no end of comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s. In particular, we’ve suffered a thousand new ways that pun-loving journalists have managed to force references to The Grapes of Wrath into their headlines. Haven’t we suffered enough? To honor the memory of John Steinbeck, here are eight great pop-culture references to the book that actually make perfect sense.

1. Woody Guthrie’s “Tom Joad”

Background

Set to the tune of “John Hardy,” a traditional American folk song, this Woody Guthrie classic retells The Grapes of Wrath as a hero ballad.

Quotables

Now, the twelve of the Joads made a mighty heavy load
But Grandpa Joad did cry
He picked up a handful of land in his hand
Said, “I’m stayin’ with the farm till I die
Yes, I’m stayin’ with the farm till I die.”

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2. Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad”

Background

This nod to The Grapes of Wrath compares Depression-era life to the economic troubles of the early nineties. Not that we know anything about that nowadays.

Quotables

Now Tom said, “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me, Mom, I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes, Mom, you’ll see me”

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or

3. The Three Amigos

Background

Three washed-up actors are mistaken for heroes by Mexican villagers, who recruit them to fight thugs on their behalf. The Amigos’ catchphrase parodies Tom Joad’s famous “I’ll Be There” speech.

Quotables

Wherever there is injustice, you will find us. Wherever there is suffering, we’ll be there. Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find… the Three Amigos!

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This famous scene of the Three Amigos putting on a show for thugs who think they’re gunslingers

4. Pink Floyd’s “Sorrow”

Background

This song about the Great Depression references a line in chapter 25 of The Grapes of Wrath that reads, “The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land.”

Quotables

The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land
Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky
A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers
But awakes to a morning with no reason for waking

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5. Mumford and Sons’ “Dust Bowl Dance”

Background

On an album full of Shakespeare and Steinbeck references, Mumford and Sons include this Depression-era piece about a man who takes justice into his own hands, Tom-Joad style.

Quotables

The young man stands on the edge of his porch
The days were short and the father was gone
There was no one in the town and no one in the field
This dusty barren land had given all it could yield

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6. Galaxy Quest

Background

Six washed-up actors are mistaken for heroes by aliens, who recruit them to fight on their behalf. Their catchphrase also happens to reference Tom Joad’s “I’ll Be There” speech. Yes, this is basically The Three Amigos in space.

Quotables

As long as there is injustice; whenever a Targathian baby cries out; wherever a distress signal sounds among the stars, we’ll be there.

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7. Kris Kristofferson’s “Here Comes that Rainbow Again”

Background

This song retells a classic diner scene from Chapter 15 of The Grapes of Wrath.

Quotables

The scene was a small roadside café
The waitress was sweeping the floor
Two truck drivers drinking their coffee
And two Okie kids by the door “How much are them candies?” they asked her “How much have you
got?” she replied
“We’ve only a penny between us.” “Them’s two for a penny,” she lied

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8. South Park’s “Over Logging” (Season 12, Episode 6)

Background

When America’s Internet supply dries up, the Marsh family heads to Californee, where talk has it that the Internet is plentiful.

Quotables

Silicon Valley! They gots a whole mess’a Internet up there. They say a man can practically roll around in it!

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