From Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath,

In the morning the dust hung like fog, and the sun was as red as ripe new blood.

What does word "ripe" mean?

Does it mean
1. Fully developed; mature: ripe peaches.
2. Resembling matured fruit, as in fullness.

Why in this case blood is new if it is mature?

Or does it mean
8. advanced but healthy (esp in the phrase a ripe old age)
In this case it would be "As red as healthy new blood".

What variant is correct?

  • 1
    It means fresh from the body, before it turns brown/dark from oxidation. Poetically matches your second definition.
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 23:03

1 Answer 1


He is stretching the meanings of ripe that apply to fruit and evoke a sense of succulence, readiness, the bright colours of ripe fruit, and freshness, and applying them to the appearance of freshly shed blood; certainly in colour, and arguably also invoking the round shape of a drop of blood.

It's very much a poetic use. As a technical description it would be horribly wrong (there is no meaningful sense in which blood can be said to ripen and therefore blood cannot be ripe), but in my opinion that poetic use works very well: In reading it I don't object that blood cannot be ripe, but rather I get a strong visual impression, and then read on.

Such uses are a gamble though, the line between a stretched meaning that will evoke and one that will pull a reader out of the text complaining "that's nonsense" is hard to discern, and varies from reader to reader.

It's a bigger gamble in prose than in verse.

It's a lesser gamble in prose that has made other poetic allusions before, and made the reader more inclined to expect and accept them, but then you run another risk of "purple prose" that so heavily uses such allusions as to begin to seem ridiculous.

There's very much an art to it. To my mind, Steinbeck succeeds.

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