The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 1-9

Chapter 1 The cornfields of Oklahoma shrivel and fade in a long summer drought. Thick clouds of dust fill the skies, and the farmers tie handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths. At night, the dust blocks out the stars and creeps in through cracks in the farmhouses. During the day the farmers have nothing to do but stare dazedly at their dying crops, wondering how their families will survive. Their wives and children watch them in turn, fearful that the disaster will break the men and leave the families destitute. They know that no misfortune will be too great to bear as long as their men remain “whole.”
Chapter 2 Into this desolate country enters Tom Joad, newly released from the McAlester State Penitentiary, where he served four years on a manslaughter conviction. Dressed in a cheap new suit, Tom hitches a ride with a trucker he meets at a roadside restaurant. The trucker’s vehicle carries a “No Riders” sign, but Tom asks the trucker to be a “good guy” even if “some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker.” As they travel down the road, the driver asks Tom about himself, and Tom explains that he is returning to his father’s farm. The driver is surprised that the Joads have not been driven off their property by a “cat,” a large tractor sent by landowners and bankers to force poor farmers off the land. The driver reports that much has changed during Tom’s absence: great numbers of families have been “tractored out” of their small farms. The driver fears that Tom has taken offense at his questions and assures him that he’s not a man to stick his nose in other folks’ business. The loneliness of life on the road, he confides in Tom, can wear a man down. Tom senses the man looking him over, noticing his clothes, and admits that he has just been released from prison. The driver assures Tom that such news does not bother him. Tom laughs, telling the driver that he now has a story to tell “in every joint from here to Texola.” The truck comes to a stop at the road leading to the Joads’ farm, and Tom gets out.
Chapter 3 In the summer heat, a turtle plods across the baking highway. A woman careens her car aside to avoid hitting the turtle, but a young man veers his truck straight at the turtle, trying to run it over. He nicks the edge of the turtle’s shell, flipping it off the highway and onto its back. Legs jerking in the air, the turtle struggles to flip itself back over. Eventually it succeeds and continues trudging on its way.
Analysis Chapters 1-3 The Grapes of Wrath derives its epic scope from the way that Steinbeck uses the story of the Joad family to portray the plight of thousands of Dust Bowl farmers. The structure of the novel reflects this dual commitment: Steinbeck tracks the Joad family with long narrative chapters but alternates these sections with short, lyrical vignettes, capturing the westward movement of migrant farmers in the 1930s as they flee drought and industry.This structure enables Steinbeck to use many different writing styles. The short (usually odd-numbered) chapters use highly stylized, poetic language to explore the social, economic, and historical factors that forced the great migration. Steinbeck’s first description of the land is almost biblical in its simplicity, grandeur, and repetition: “The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.” The chapters devoted to the Joads’ story are noteworthy for their remarkably realistic evocation of life and language among Oklahoma sharecroppers. Here Steinbeck displays his talent for rich, naturalistic narration. (Naturalism is a school of writing favoring realistic representations of human life and natural, as opposed to supernatural or spiritual, explanations for social phenomena.) Expertly rendered details place the reader squarely and immediately in the book’s setting, quickly drawing us in after an interlude of more distanced poetics. Steinbeck also skillfully captures the colorful, rough dialogue of his folk heroes—”You had that big nose goin’ over me like a sheep in a vegetable patch,” Tom says to the truck driver in Chapter 2—thus bringing them to life. By employing a wide range of styles, Steinbeck achieves what he called a “symphony in composition, in movement, in tone and scope.”The opening of the novel also establishes several of the novel’s dominant themes. Steinbeck dedicates the first and third chapters, respectively, to a historical and symbolic description of the Dust Bowl tragedy. While Chapter 1 paints an impressionistic picture of the Oklahoma farms as they wither and die, Chapter 3 presents a symbolic depiction of the farmers’ plights in the turtle that struggles to cross the road. Both chapters share a particularly dark vision of the world. As the relentless weather of Chapter 1 and the mean-spirited driver of Chapter 3 represent, the universe is full of obstacles that fill life with hardship and danger. Like the turtle that trudges across the road, the Joad family will be called upon, time and again, to fight the malicious forces—drought, industry, human jealousy and fear—that seek to overturn it.
Chapter 4 As Tom plods along the dusty road, he notices a turtle. He picks it up, wraps it in his coat, and takes it with him. Continuing on, he notices a tattered man sitting under a tree. The man recognizes him and introduces himself as Jim Casy, the preacher in Tom’s church when Tom was a boy. Casy says that he baptized Tom, but Tom was too busy pulling a girl’s pigtails to have taken much interest in the event. Tom gives the old preacher a drink from his flask of liquor, and Casy tells Tom how he decided to stop preaching. He admits that he had a habit of taking girls “out in the grass” after prayer meetings and tells Tom that he was conflicted for some time, not knowing how to reconcile his sexual appetite with his responsibility for these young women’s souls. Eventually, however, he came to the decision that “[t]here ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing.” No longer convinced that human pleasures run counter to a divine plan, Casy believes that the human spirit is the Holy Spirit.Casy asks Tom about his father, and Tom replies that he hasn’t seen or heard from him in years. Tom divulges the crime that landed him in prison, explaining that he and another man, both drunk, got into a fight; the man stabbed Tom, and Tom killed him with a nearby shovel. He describes life in prison, where he received regular meals and baths. Despite this good treatment, however, he notes that the lack of women made life hard. As Tom prepares to continue toward his home, Casy asks if he can come along. Tom welcomes him, and comments that the Joads always thought highly of their preacher. They walk to the farm, but upon arriving at the site, they realize it has been deserted.
Chapter 5 The landowners and the banks, unable to make high profits from tenant farming, evict the farmers from the land. (Tenant farming is an agricultural system in which farmers rent farmland from a land owner.) Some of the property owners are cruel, some are kind, but they all deliver the same news: the farmers must leave. The farmers protest, complaining that they have nowhere to go. The owners suggest they go to California, where there is work to be done. Tractors arrive on the land, with orders to plow the property, crushing anything in their paths—including, if necessary, the farmhouse. The tractors are often driven by the farmers’ neighbors, who explain that their own families have nothing to eat and that the banks pay several dollars a day. Livid, the displaced farmers yearn to fight back, but the banks are so faceless, impersonal, and inhuman that they cannot be fought against.
Chapter 6 Tom and Casy find the Joad homestead strangely untouched, other than a section of the farmhouse that has been crushed. The presence of usable materials and tools on the premises, apparently unscavenged, signifies to Tom that the neighbors, too, must have deserted their farms. Tom and Casy see Muley Graves walking toward them. He reports that the Joads have moved in with Tom’s Uncle John. The entire family has gone to work picking cotton in hopes of earning enough money to buy a car and make the journey to California. Muley explains haltingly that a large company has bought all the land in the area and evicted the tenant farmers in order to cut labor costs. When Tom asks if he can stay at Muley’s place for the night, Muley explains that he, too, has lost his land and that his family has already departed for California. Hearing this, Casy criticizes Muley’s decision to stay behind: “You shouldn’t of broke up the fambly.” Hungry, the men share the rabbits Muley caught hunting. After dinner, the headlights of a police car sweep across the land. Afraid that they will be arrested for trespassing, they hide, though Tom balks at the idea of hiding from the police on his own farm. Muley takes them to a cave where he sleeps. Tom sleeps in the open air outside the cave, but Casy says that he cannot sleep: his mind is too burdened with what the men have learned.
Analysis Chapters 4-6 As the novel unfolds, the short, descriptive chapters emerge like a series of thesis statements on the conditions of life in the Dust Bowl. The chapters recounting the story of the Joad clan can be seen as illustrations of or evidence for the claims made in the shorter chapters. In Chapter 5, Steinbeck sets forth an argument strongly supportive of tenant farmers. Notably, however, he does not directly vilify the landowners and bank representatives as they turn the tenant farmers off their land. He asserts that the economic system makes everyone a victim—rich and poor, privileged and disenfranchised. All are caught “in something larger than themselves.” It is this larger monster that has created the divides between the victims, stratified them, and turned the upper strata against the lower. Still, Steinbeck does not portray in detail the personal difficulties of the men who evict the farmers, nor of the conflicted neighbors who plow down their farms. His sympathies clearly lie with the farmers, and his descriptive eye follows these sympathies. Correspondingly, it is with these families that the reader comes to identify.The Grapes of Wrath openly and without apology declares its stance on the events it portrays. This sense of commitment and candor stems from Steinbeck’s method of characterization, as well as from his insistence on setting up the Joads and their clan as models of moral virtue. Although Tom Joad has spent four years in prison, he soon emerges as a kind of moral authority in the book. A straight-talking man, Tom begins his trek home by putting a nosy truck driver in his place—having served the lawful punishment for his crime, he owns up to his past without indulging in regret or shame. His deeply thoughtful disposition, truthful speech, and gestures of generosity endear him to the reader, as well as those around him. He will soon emerge as a leader among his people. His leadership ability stems also from his sense of confidence and sureness of purpose. Tom admits to Casy that if he found himself in a situation similar to the one that landed him in jail, he would behave no differently now. This statement does not convey pride or vanity but a capacity to know and be honest with himself, as well as a steady resolve. If Tom Joad emerges as the novel’s moral consciousness, then Jim Casy emerges as its moral mouthpiece. Although he claims he has lost his calling as a preacher, Casy remains a great talker, and he rarely declines an opportunity to make a speech. At many points, Steinbeck uses him to voice the novel’s themes. Here, for instance, Casy describes the route by which he left the pulpit. After several sexual affairs with young women in his congregation, Casy realized that the immediate pleasures of human life were more important than lofty concepts of theological virtue. He decided that he did not need to be a preacher to experience holiness: simply being an equal among one’s fellow human beings was sacred in its own way. This philosophy is lived out by the Joads, who soon discover that open, sincere fellowship with others is more precious than any longed-for commodity. Casy further emphasizes the virtues of companionship when he chastises Muley Graves. The man has allowed his family to leave for California without him, for the sake of practicality, but Casy believes that togetherness and cooperation should always take precedence over practicality.
Chapter 7 The narrator assumes the voice of a used-car salesman explaining to his employees how to cheat the departing families. The great westward exodus has created a huge demand for automobiles, and dusty used-car lots spring up throughout the area. Crooked salesmen sell the departing families whatever broken-down vehicles they can find. The salesmen fill engines with sawdust to conceal noisy transmissions and replace good batteries with cracked ones before they deliver the cars. The tenant farmers, desperate to move and with little knowledge of cars, willingly pay the skyrocketing prices, much to the salesmen’s delight.
Chapter 8 As the men travel to Uncle John’s, Tom relates a story about his curious uncle. Years ago, John dismissed his wife’s complaints of a stomach ache and refused to hire a doctor for her. When she subsequently died, John was unable to deal with the loss. Tom describes his constant acts of generosity, handing out candy to children or delivering a sack of meal to a neighbor, as if trying to make up for his one fatal instance of stinginess. Despite his efforts, John remains unable to console himself.At Uncle John’s house, Tom is reunited with his family. He comes upon his father, Pa Joad, piling the family’s belongings outside. Neither Pa nor Ma Joad recognizes Tom at first, and, until he explains that he has been paroled from prison, both fear that he has broken out illegally. They tell him that they are about to leave for California. Ma Joad worries that life in prison may have driven Tom insane: she knew the mother of a gangster, “Purty Boy Floyd,” who went “mean-mad” in prison. Tom assures his mother that he lacks the stubborn pride of those who find prison a devastating insult. “I let stuff run off’n me,” he says. Tom also reunites with fiery old Grampa and Granma Joad, and with his withdrawn and slow-moving brother Noah.At breakfast, Granma, who is devoutly religious, insists that Casy say a prayer, even though he tells them he no longer preaches. Instead of a traditional prayer, he shares his realization that mankind is holy in itself. The Joads do not begin the meal, however, until he follows the speech with an “amen.” Pa Joad shows Tom the truck he has bought for the family and says that Tom’s younger brother Al, who knows a bit about cars, helped him pick it out. When sixteen-year-old Al arrives at the house, his admiration and respect for Tom is clear. Tom learns that his two youngest siblings, Ruthie and Winfield, are in town with Uncle John. Rose of Sharon, another sister, has married Connie, a boy from a neighboring farm, and is expecting a child.
Chapter 9 The narrator shifts focus from the Joads to describe how the tenant farmers in general prepare for the journey to California. For much of the chapter, the narrator assumes the voice of typical tenant farmers, expressing what their possessions and memories of their homes mean to them. The farmers are forced to pawn most of their belongings, both to raise money for the trip and simply because they cannot take them on the road. In the frenzied buying and selling that follows, the farmers have no choice but to deal with brokers who pay outrageously low prices, knowing that the farmers are in no position to bargain. Disappointed, the farmers return to their wives and report that they have sold most of their property for a pocketful of change. The wives linger over objects with sentimental value, but everything must be sold or destroyed before the families can leave for California
Analysis Chapters 7-9 Chapter 8 introduces us to the Joad family. Steinbeck sketches a good number of memorable characters in the space of a single chapter. Pa appears as a competent, fair-minded, and good-hearted head of the family, leading the Joads in their journeys, while Ma emerges as the family’s “citadel,” anchoring them and keeping them safe. Steinbeck does not render the Joads as particularly complex characters. Instead, each family member tends to possess one or two exaggerated, distinguishing characteristics. Grampa, for instance, is mischievous and ornery; Granma is excessively pious; Al, a typically cocky teenage boy, is obsessed with cars and girls.Some readers find fault with Steinbeck’s method of characterization, which they criticize as unsophisticated and sentimental, but this criticism may be unfair. It is true that the Joads are not shown as having the kind of complex psychological lives that mark many great literary characters. Their desires are simple and clearly stated, and the obstacles to their desires are plainly identified by both the novel and themselves. However, it is in the nature of an epic to portray heroic, boldly drawn figures—figures who embody national ideals or universal struggles. Steinbeck succeeds in crafting the Joads into heroes worthy of an epic. Their goodness, conviction, and moral certainty stand in sharp contrast to their material circumstances.The short chapters that bookend the introduction of the Joad family develop one of the book’s major themes. The narrative’s indictment of the crooked car salesmen and pawnbrokers illustrates man’s inhumanity to man, a force against which the Joads struggle. Time and again, those in positions of power seek to take advantage of those below them. Even when giving up a portion of land might save a family, the privileged refuse to imperil their wealth. Later in the novel, there is nothing that the California landowners fear as much as relinquishing their precious land to the needy farmers. This behavior contradicts Jim Casy’s belief that men must act for the good of all men. In The Grapes of Wrath, moral order depends upon this kind of selflessness and charity. Without these virtues, the text suggests, there is no hope for a livable world. As one farmer warns the corrupt pawnbroker who robs him of his possessions: “[Y]ou cut us down, and soon you will be cut down and there’ll be none of us to save you.”

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