Free Study Guide: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Free BookNotes|
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Muley sees the headlights of a car bobbing in the distance, and warns them that it will be Willy Feely, the Deputy Sheriff, because they are trespassing. He suggests that they will have to hide to avoid getting into trouble. Tom is amazed at the transformation of Muley and demands, "What's come over you, Muley? You wasn't never no run-an'-hide fella. You was mean." Muley remarks that while earlier he was mean like a wolf, now he is mean like a weasel.
Tom refuses to hide on his own father's land, but Muley reminds him that he
is out on parole and cannot risk being arrested. This makes sense to Tom,
so they hide in the cotton field until the car leaves. Muley leads them
to a cave where they can sleep without being discovered. Tom says that
he dug this cave with his brother Noah years ago while looking for gold.
Muley sleeps in the cave, but Tom prefers to sleep outside. Casy says
that he will not sleep as he has many things to think about.
After the generalized account in chapter five of the eviction of the tenants from the land, this chapter personalizes it through the description of what happened to the Joads. The reader sees the crumpled Joad house and can constantly visualize what must have happened in the Joad farm, just as has happened in countless others. Muley Graves, the living dead, who has refused to leave this useless, dust-blown land, tells Tom that Tom's grandpa had offered resistance to the tractor driver and shot the headlights out on the tractor before stepping aside.
When Muley unselfishly shares his food with Tom and Casy, he acts according to the dictates of his conscience. His comment that "if a fella's got somepin' to eat an another fella's hungry--why, the first fella ain't got no choice" reflects the value of people helping each other. Throughout the novel, Steinbeck describes how one poor person helps out another; they have little to give other than assistance. Casy comments on the significance of Muley’s altruistic behavior, remarking that "Muley's got a-holt of somepin, an' it's too big for him, an' it's too big for me."
Muley's behavior provides a stark contrast to the selfishness of Willy Feeley, who only cares about his own family. Willy's attitude provides a parallel to that of Joe Davis's boy in the earlier chapter. This implies that others have turned on their own people, and similar dramas are being enacted all across the drought stricken land. For Willy and others like him, the question of individual survival has gained precedence over community sharing.
When Muley leads Tom and Casy to a cave, Tom refuses to hide saying, “I ain't
gonna sleep in no cave." This is ironic since later in chapter 28
of the novel, Tom will hide in a cave and will be extremely happy to find
this shelter. Tom realizes that the fact that he is out on parole poses
certain limitations on his actions and keeps him from following his natural
In this chapter, the reader is taken to a used car lot on the edge of one
of the countless small towns in the Dust Bowl region. On the lot, there
are rows and rows of parked cars lined up side by side. Car-lot owners,
with rolled up sleeves, and salesmen, with small intent eyes, watch for
signs of weakness. If the woman likes the car, the man can easily be coaxed
into buying it. Rusty old cars with flat tires are selling very fast.
The central attraction, the real bargain of the lot is never sold. It
is just used to attract customers. When a car is sold, the yard battery
is taken out and a dumb cell is put in its place. The used car business
is at a high point in terms of sales figures. The owners and the slick
salesmen cheat the naive farmfolk by putting in sawdust to muffle the
noise in the transmission or changing of gears. The demand for old jalopies
is obviously greater than the supply. The tenants are buying the old cars
to get to California. Dishonest salesmen and owners cheat them and make
as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
This is again an interchapter sketching out a general situation which the Joads will experience later. The Joads will have to buy a used car in order to get to California. The rapidity of the dialogues and the mind-boggling interchanges between the salesmen and the naive farmers create the sense of confusion that the sharecropper must feel in this unknown territory of hard sell. Ultimately, the croppers are cheated out of their hard-earned savings by paying too much for a rattletrap and unreliable car. In chapter eight, the reader sees the run down truck in Uncle John's yard and immediately connects the experience of bafflement, dread, and confusion of the used car lots with the experience of the Joads as they bargained for the truck. This chapter thus lends a universal perspective to the trials of the Joads.
The sharecroppers who migrate to California will meet many selfish people
on their way who will try to cheat them in order to make quick money at
their expense. The shrewd salesmen here act without any iota of morality
when they sell battered cars to the gullible croppers at extremely high
prices. Steinbeck cleverly juxtaposes the agricultural way of life (the
farmers) and the mechanical age (the automobile). A naive farmer offers
to barter a pair of mules for the partial payment of a car. The salesman
quickly exploits the farmer’s lack of knowledge about the car business.
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