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Free Study Guide: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Free BookNotes

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THE GRAPES OF WRATH: ONLINE BOOK SUMMARY / ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 3

Summary

The concrete highway is edged with dry grass; past the grass grow various plants. In the variegated growth, creatures move about--ants, ant lions, grasshoppers, and a land turtle. The turtle crawls along steadily "turning aside for nothing;" it tenaciously climbs the embankment of the highway with great difficulty and tremendous effort. As the embankment grows steeper, the turtle's efforts become more frantic. He crushes a red ant between his body and legs, and a head of wild oats becomes entangled in his shell. Overcoming all difficulties and numerous obstacles, the turtle finally reaches the top of the embankment and begins to cross the highway. A woman driver swerves her car to avoid hitting the turtle. Some moments later, a man in a light truck deliberately swerves to run over the turtle. Amazingly, the truck that hits it merely throws the turtle across the road in the direction in which it was already moving. The turtle lands on its back and struggles to flip over. Once it has righted itself, the turtle continues indomitably on its way. The clump of oats falls out of its shell and the turtle accidentally buries it as its body drags soil over the oats on its way.

Notes

In a Steinbeck novel, the nature or the environment plays an important role. Steinbeck, a naturalist, believed that heredity and environment determine the actions of people and that humanity is often a helpless victim of an indifferent universe. Steinbeck’s naturalistic presentation demands a detailed documentary style, and The Grapes of Wrath is filled with this style of writing. Steinbeck's celebrated naturalistic symbol of the turtle in this chapter stands for the migrants. The turtle, like the Joads and other migrants, carries its home on its back wherever it travels. It must risk life on the road and face the hostile world of machinery, symbolized in the vehicles. The turtle continues on its way, overcoming all obstacles and difficulties. It is important to note that it carries new life, oat seeds, over to the other side of the highway and plants it there. His efforts ensure a rebirth.


Steinbeck has made it clear through the symbol of the tenacious turtle that the migrants will be successful in establishing a new life in California. Although the migrants will have to undergo many hardships and trials, they will survive in their endeavors. The turtle's determination and tenacity are stressed with detailed and realistic description and foreshadow the determination of the Joads. Chapter 3, then, presents the story of the migrants in microcosm--in the turtle. Naturalistic imagery combines with symbolic overtones to foreshadow the eventual success of the migrants.


CHAPTER 4

Summary

Tom stands back and watches the truck drive away and starts walking homewards. He notices that the thick layer of dust is discoloring his new yellow shoes. He takes off his shoes and wraps them in his coat. As he walks, his footsteps kick up a cloud of dust behind him. In the nearby farms wind, heat, and drought wither the corn. Nearby is a land turtle, crawling along slowly through the dust. Tom catches it as a present for the Joad children and rolls it up in his coat along with his shoes. As he walks further ahead, Tom sees a man sitting against the trunk of a willow tree. The man recognizes Tom as Ol' Tom's boy and introduces himself as Jim Casy, the preacher who baptized him.

Casy announces that he has given up his role as a preacher, for he does not have the call of the spirit anymore. Casy accepts Tom's offer of a drink happily. Casy then outlines his philosophy of life and the factors that led to his loss of faith. He felt hypocritical when he indulged in sex with young women after he had preached to them. He says that he noticed that the more grace the women seemed to have, the more eagerly they gave their bodies to him. Tom humorously comments that "Maybe I should have been a preacher." Casy says that he knew that what he was doing was not right and so he took time off to think about it. After years of constant thought, he has come to understand that there "ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue." Casy now thinks that humanity only has the right to say whether a particular action is nice or not nice.

Casy further says that the “calling” and the Holy Spirit are actually the human spirit, which he interprets as the love of all humankind. Casy also suggests that maybe humanity has one big soul of which everyone is a part. Tom perceptively remarks that the Church and the people would not accept Casy's philosophy: "You can't hold no church with idears like that." Tom knows that people would drive Casy out of the country for such blasphemy.

In the meanwhile, the turtle frees itself from the coat and tries to run away in pursuit of its original route. Tom watches it for a moment and then catches it again. Casy asks about Ol' Tom's health. Tom replies that he has spent four years in McAlester because he killed a man in a drunken brawl and is now out on parole. He admits that he does not feel ashamed and would do the same thing now if the circumstances demanded it. Casy asks him about the kind of treatment the prisoners receive in McAlester. Tom tells him that they ate at regular times, got clean clothes, and even had a nice bath everyday. Tom then recounts the story of a man who busted his parole deliberately by stealing a car so he could go back to McAlester.

Casy walks with Tom towards the Joad house and talks about things at random. As they start nearing the house, Tom recalls an incident when his Uncle John killed a pig and ate almost the whole of it. Uncle John was not like his father and did not like to salt down pigs. As they move over the slope of the hill and see the Joad house below them, Tom realizes that something is amiss. Then they realize that the house has been deserted.

Notes

In chapter four, the second narrative chapter, Tom Joad finds a land turtle and rolls it up in his coat as a present for the Joad children. This establishes the necessary link between the interchapter dealing with the turtle's strenuous efforts to cross the highway and the narrative chapter telling us of Tom's walk to his home. Steinbeck clearly associates Tom with the turtle. Although there are no obvious statements to indicate that this is the same turtle mentioned in chapter three, the reader can sense the connection.

The turtle is also identified with Jim Casy. His long and bony head is covered with tightly drawn skin. His neck is stringy and muscular. His heavy and protruding eyeballs are covered with red and raw lids. His shiny brown cheeks are hairless and he has a full mouth. His nose is beaked and hard. Casy thus bears a striking resemblance to the turtle described in the third chapter. This feeling of resemblance is strengthened later on in the novel when Casy likens himself to a turtle saying, “They (turtles) work at it and work at it, and at last they get out and away they go off somewheres. It's like me."

Chapter four focuses on the character of the ex-preacher, Jim Casy. The growth and development of his character is of utmost importance to the novel. Casy's belief in a philosophy based upon the love of people is the product of deep thought and reflection over a period of four years. He tells Tom, "I don't know nobody named Jesus. I know a bunch of stories, but I only love people." He realizes the importance of the human spirit over transcendental and abstract terms. Casy thinks originally and does not accept anything as the given fact. He questions everything so as to get to the root of the matter. He embraces Emerson's concept of the "Over-Soul" when he says that all people have one big soul of which everyone is a part.

Casy also functions as a contrast to Tom. In this chapter, Tom shows absolutely no desire to share Casy's views. He is self-absorbed and thinks largely about himself. His humorous comment that "Maybe I should have been a preacher" provides a stark contrast to Casy's seriousness about his decision to leave the ministry because of his being promiscuous. Tom thinks of having sex instead of the weighty issues of what constitutes sin and virtue. Although Tom does not accept Casy's unorthodox views at this point, he will later on adopt them as the foundation for his actions.


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