The Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck displayed as a young man many of the traits and ideas that would later become major thematic elements in works such as "The Grapes of Wrath," "Cannery Row" and "Of Mice and Men." At the age of 19, Steinbeck interrupted a sermon while visiting his mother's church when he felt that the minister's preaching placed a greater emphasis on the hunger of the soul over the hunger of the body for food. The young author's outburst made a point of comparing the satisfied congregation to the people outside the church who were hungry for "a crust of bread" and could not earn enough to feed themselves.
Much of Steinbeck's writing displays a social perception focused on those who are less fortunate than others. He spent his early years working on ranches in California alongside migrant workers who were very much like the characters he depicted in "Of Mice and Men" and "The Grapes of Wrath." During the Great Depression, Steinbeck and his first wife, Carol, struggled to survive by living on the fish he caught and the items he grew in his garden. His first wife served as a character model for Mary Talbot in "Cannery Row."
Steinbeck's direct experiences in making a living and surviving off of the land provided him with first-hand insight into the challenges faced by Tom Joad and his family in "The Grapes of Wrath." In his work, Steinbeck often asks that his readers learn to shift their perceptions and view the workings of nature in a more holistic manner rather than as simply a source of natural beauty.