In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s use of diction builds the foundation of his overall theme; the cruelties men impose on other men. His use of repetition, low-style word choice, and the power of connotation all reinforce his lager message.
In the novel’s opening pages Steinbeck laces the text with recurring words, illustrating the setting and tone. He repeats words like “red country”, “dust”, “boiling”, and “raw stinging” to make the reader feel as if they are in the scorched and dust covered setting of Oklahoma in the midst of the Dust Bowl. He also utilizes recurring words like “pale”, “dark”, and “grey” as a sort of way to engrain into the reader’s minds with the depressing and utterly tragic tone the introduction to the story evokes. Pronouns like “…they are”, “They awakened”, and “…the people” immediately disconnects the reader from any one person and imply that everyone at this time was going through the same struggles. With the repetition he uses, Steinbeck successfully has his audience feel and see the melancholy tone and blistering setting. Along with repetition Steinbeck also uses a simple word choice to get his point across. Steinbeck uses simple phrases like “The dawn came, but no day”, “Men and women huddled in their houses…”, and “An even blanket covered the earth.” to show us that these were much simpler times.
It even suggest that because of the simple mindedness of these people, the struggles they have to face would be even more a of a challenge to overcome. His low-style of writing gives us an idea of the time and how that would directly affect the characters in the novel. Steinbeck uses many words throughout these opening pages with very negative connotations. He uses “darkness”, “grey”, “pale”, and “blood” to emphasize the very negative recurring theme of The Grapes of Wrath, when man turns on man. It can be implied, with just reading these opening pages, that the theme of this story would be devastating and tragic. The connotation of the repeated phrase “… it was all right” are said by the families as a glimmer of hope, but in fact shows the reader that in fact it is not. Steinbeck artfully uses many different repetition, low-style writing, and connotation in the opening pages of his novel to give the reader a sense of the setting, plot and reinforce is theme; the cruelties man imposes on other men.