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

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CHAPTER 6

Summary

Tom and Casy reach the deserted and damaged Joad house. It has been smashed in at one corner and has been pushed off its foundations so that it is tilting at an angle. Cotton grows all around it. The barn is deserted and the well has dried up. The sagging house is all pushed out of shape. Tom does not know what has happened. He knows that either his family has moved out for some reason or is dead. He says, "Somepin's wrong," but "I can't put my finger on her." He sees a lean gray cat sneaking out of the barn and notices that the neighbors have not ripped any wooden planks from the house. He deduces that the neighbors must also have left. Tom then frees the land turtle he has been carrying in his coat and pushes it under the house. But the turtle resumes its southwest journey, heading in its original direction. Tom and Casy watch the turtle go. Casy observes, “I seen turtles all my life. They're always goin' someplace. They always seem to want to get there."

The men see somebody coming down the road. As the man comes nearer, Tom recognizes him as Muley Graves, an old acquaintance. They startle him by calling his name out loudly, but after a moment's hesitation he approaches them. Muley recognizes Tom Joad and tells him that his father, Old Tom, was worried about their leaving since they had not written to Tom about it. Muley finally tells them that the Joads have gone to Uncle John's place and are preparing to leave for California. The entire family has been working in the cotton fields to collect enough money to buy a car for the journey. Tom is relieved to know that his family has not yet left.

Muley then explains why the tenants were evicted and expresses his resentment at these actions. He declares that although his family has left, he will stay on this land: "They ain't gettin' rid a me." He says that his father had settled the land, and now some large company has bought the land and begrudged the sharecroppers' margin. In turn, the company tractored all the tenants off the land.

Tom confesses that he is extremely tired and hungry and is in no condition to walk to Uncle John's place tonight. He asks Muley if they can go to his place. Muley is embarrassed and explains that although his family has left, he has stayed behind and wanders about the land trapping wild animals to eat. He has some cottontail rabbits and a jackrabbit, and he willingly shares this food with Tom and Casy, remarking that he does not have a choice in this matter. As he sees it, if a person has food and another doesn't, there is no choice. The first person has to share. They cook the rabbits over a fire and talk about various things as they eat. Casy says that he plans to travel with the Joads because he wants to help the people out on the road.


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.

Notes

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 instincts.


CHAPTER 7

Summary

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.

Notes

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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