The Grapes of Wrath

Full Summary

Chapter One: Steinbeck begins the novel with a description of the dust bowl climate of Oklahoma. The dust was so thick that men and women had to remain in their houses, and when they had to leave they tied handkerchiefs over their faces and wore goggles to protect their eyes. After the wind had stopped, an even blanket of dust covered the earth. The corn crop was ruined. Everybody wondered what they would do. The women and children knew that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole, but the men had not yet figured out what to do.

Chapter Two: A man approaches a small diner where a large red transport truck is parked. The man is under thirty, with dark brown eyes and high cheekbones. He wore new clothes that don't quite fit. The truck driver exits from the diner and the man asks him for a ride, despite the "No Riders" sticker on the truck. The man claims that sometimes a guy will do a good thing even when a rich bastard makes him carry a sticker, and the driver, feeling trapped by the statement, lets the man have a ride. While driving, the truck driver asks questions, and the man finally gives his name, Tom Joad. The truck driver claims that guys do strange things when they drive trucks, such as make up poetry, because of the loneliness of the job. The truck driver claims that his experience driving has trained his memory and that he can remember everything about a person he passes. Realizing that the truck driver is pressing for information, Tom finally admits that he had just been released from McAlester prison for homicide. He had been sentenced to seven years and was released after only four, for good behavior.

Chapter Three: At the side of the roadside, a turtle crawled, dragging his shell over the grass. He came to the embankment at the road and, with great effort, climbed onto the road. As the turtle attempts to cross the road, it is nearby hit by a sedan. A truck swerves to hit the turtle, but its wheel only strikes the edge of its shell and spins it back off the highway. The turtle lays on its back, but finally pulls itself over.

Chapter Four: After getting out of the truck, Tom Joad begins walking home. He sees the turtle of the previous chapter and picks it up. He stops in the shade of a tree to rest and meets a man who sits there, singing "Jesus is My Savior." The man, Jim Casy, had a long, bony frame and sharp features. A former minister, he recognizes Tom immediately. He was a "Burning Busher" who used to "howl out the name of Jesus to glory," but he lost the calling because he has too many sinful ideas that seem sensible. Tom tells Casy that he took the turtle for his little brother, and he replies that nobody can keep a turtle, for they eventually just go off on their own. Casy claims that he doesn't know where he's going now, and Tom tells him to lead people, even if he doesn't know where to lead them. Casy tells Tom that part of the reason he quit preaching was that he too often succumbed to temptation, having sex with many of the girls he Њsaved.' Finally he realized that perhaps what he was doing wasn't a sin, and there isn't really sin or virtue there are simply things people do.

He realized he didn't Њknow Jesus,' he merely knew the stories of the Bible. Tom tells Casy why he was in jail: he was at a dance drunk, and got in a fight with a man. The man cut Tom with a knife, so he hit him over the head with a shovel. Tom tells him that he was treated relatively well in McAlester. He ate regularly, got clean clothes and bathed. He even tells about how someone broke his parole to go back. Tom tells how his father Њstole' their house. There was a family living there that moved away, so his father, uncle and grandfather cut the house in two and dragged part of it first, only to find that Wink Manley took the other half. They get to the boundary fence of their property, and Tom tells him that they didn't need a fence, but it gave Pa a feeling that their forty acres was forty acres. Tom and Casy get to the house: something has happened nobody is there.

Chapter Five: This chapter describes the coming of the bank representatives to evict the farmers. Some of the men were kind because they knew how cruel their job was, while some were angry because they hated to be cruel, and others were merely cold and hardened by their job. They are mostly pawns of a system that they can merely obey. The tenant system has become untenable for the banks, for one man on a tractor can take the place of a dozen families. The farmers raise the possibility of armed insurrection, but what would they fight against? They will be murderers if they stay, fighting against the wrong targets.

Steinbeck describes the arrival of the tractors. They crawled over the ground, cutting the earth like surgery and violating it like rape. The tractor driver does his job simply out of necessity: he has to feed his kids, even if it comes at the expense of dozens of families. Steinbeck dramatizes a conversation between a truck driver and an evicted tenant farmer. The farmer threatens to kill the driver, but even if he does so, he will not stop the bank. Another driver will come. Even if the farmer murders the president of the bank and board of directors, the bank is controlled by the East. There is no effective target which could prevent the evictions.

Chapter Six: Casy and Tom approached the Joad home. The house was mashed at one corner and appeared deserted. Casy says that it looks like the arm of the Lord had struck. Tom can tell that Ma isn't there, for she would have never left the gate unhooked. They only see one resident (the cat), but Tom wonders why the cat didn't go to find another family if his family had moved, or why the neighbors hadn't taken the rest of the belongings in the house. Muley Graves approaches, a short, lean old man with the truculent look of an ornery child. Muley tells Tom that his mother was worrying about him. His family was evicted, and had to move in with his Uncle John. They were forced to chop cotton to make enough money to go west. Casy suggests going west to pick grapes in California. Muley tells Tom and Casy that the loss of the farm broke up his family his wife and kids went off to California, while Muley chose to stay. He has been forced to eat wild game. He muses about how angry he was when he was told he had to get off the land. First he wanted to kill people, but then his family left and Muley was left alone and wandering. He realized that he is used to the place, even if he has to wander the land like a ghost. Tom tells them that he can't go to California, for it would mean breaking parole. According to Tom, prison has not changed him significantly. He thinks that if he saw Herb Turnbull, the man he killed, coming after him with a knife again, he would still hit him with the shovel. Tom tells them that there was a man in McAlester that read a great deal about prisons and told him that they started a long time ago and now cannot be stopped, despite the fact that they do not actually rehabilitate people. Muley tells them that they have to hide, for they are trespassing on the land. They have to hide in a cave for the night.

Chapter Seven: The car dealership owners look at their customers. They watch for weaknesses, such as a woman who wants an expensive car and can push her husband into buying one. They attempt to make the customers feel obliged. The proffts come from selling jalopies, not from new and dependable cars. There are no guarantees, hidden costs and obvious flaws.

Chapter Eight: Tom and Casy reach Uncle John's farm. They remark that Muley's lonely and covert lifestyle has obviously driven him insane. According to Tom, his Uncle John is equally crazy, and wasn't expected to live long, yet is older than his father. Still, he is tougher and meaner than even Grampa, hardened by losing his young wife years ago. They see Pa Joad fixing the truck. When he sees Tom, he assumes that he broke out of jail. They go in the house and see Ma Joad, a heavy woman thick with child-bearing and work. Her face was controlled and kindly. She worries that Tom went mad in prison. This chapter also introduces Grampa and Granma Joad. She is as tough as he is, once shooting her husband while she was speaking in tongues. Noah Joad, Tom's older brother, is a strange man, slow and withdrawn, with little pride and few urges. He may have been brain damaged at childbirth. The family has dinner, and Casy says grace. He talks about how Jesus went off into the wilderness alone, and how he did the same. Yet what Casy concluded was that mankind was holy. Pa tells Tom about Al, his sixteen-year old brother, who is concerned with little more than girls and cars. He hasn't been at home at night for a week. His sister Rosasharn has married Connie Rivers, and is several months pregnant. They have two hundred dollars for their journey.

Chapter Nine: This chapter describes the process of selling belongings. The items pile up in the yard, selling for ridiculously low prices. Whatever is not sold must be burned, even items of sentimental value that simply cannot be taken on the journey for lack of space.

Chapter Ten: Ma Joad tells Tom that she is concerned about going to California, worried that it won't turn out well, for the only information they have is from flyers they read. Casy asks to accompany them to California. He wants to work in the fields, where he can listen to people rather than preach to them. Tom says that preaching is a tone of voice and a style, being good to people when they don't respond to it. Pa and Uncle John return with the truck, and prepare to leave. The two children, twelve-year old Ruthie and ten-year old Winfield are there with their older sister, Rose of Sharon (Rosasharn) and her husband. They discuss how Tom can't leave the state because of his parole. They have a family conference that night and discuss a number of issues: they decide to allow Casy to go with them, since it's the only right thing for them to do. They continue with preparations, killing the pigs to have food to take with them. While Casy helps out Ma Joad with food preparation, he remarks to Tom that she looks tired, as if she is sick. Ma Joad looks through her belongings, going through old letters and clippings she had saved. She has to place them in the fire. Before they leave, Muley Graves stops to say goodbye. Noah tells him that he's going to die out in the field if he stays, but Muley accepts his fate. Grampa refuses to leave, so they decide to give him medicine that will knock him out and take him with them.


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