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

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THE GRAPES OF WRATH: FREE NOTES / PLOT SUMMARY

CHAPTER 8

Summary

Tom and Casy walk towards Uncle John's house. Muley had awakened them when it was still quite dark, saying that he had to go into hiding before dawn. As they walk, the two men discuss with amazement the change in Muley, who creeps around the land like a coyote. After a period of silence, the conversation turns to the topic of Uncle John, and Tom tells Casy about the loneliness of his uncle.

After four months of marriage, Uncle John's young wife who was pregnant complained of a terrible stomachache and asked for a doctor. Uncle John thought that she had just eaten too much, was suffering from indigestion, and refused to call a doctor. The next day his wife died from a rupturing of the appendix. Uncle John blames himself for her death and suffers from guilt. He feels compelled to do acts of kindness to make up for his sin and frequently gives kids candy or helps a starving family.

When they approach Uncle John's house, Tom sees a truck in the yard with the family's belongings. He gathers that his family is about to leave for California. He tells Casy to walk softly and to creep up on the family and surprise them. He first meets his father--Old Tom--who is repairing the truck. He takes a few minutes to recognize Tom, and his first question is whether Tom has busted out of jail. Tom assures him that he is out on parole.

Tom's father says that they are about to leave for California, but that they were going to write him a letter. Now that he has come back, he can accompany them. He also says that Ma has been worrying a lot lately because she feared that if they left for California she would never see Tom again. He tells Tom that Ma is cooking breakfast in the kitchen and that they should surprise her. Pa goes in to ask Ma whether two men could have a bite to eat. Ma tells him to send them in, without asking who it might be.


When Tom enters, Ma also takes some time to recognize him. She is also immensely relieved to learn that Tom did not break out of prison but is out on parole. There is a touching reunion of mother and son. Ma feels the "soundness of his muscles," strokes his cheek, and nearly loses control of herself. After a moment's indulgence, she steadies herself and resumes cooking. Ma sends Pa to inform Grampa and Granma of Tom's arrival. She tells Tom that they sleep in the barn as they get up quite often during the night and disturb everybody.

When Ma is alone with Tom, she hesitantly asks him whether his imprisonment has filled him with hate and made him "crazy mad." The question is prompted because Purty Boy Floyd, who was earlier a good boy, became "mean-mad" after imprisonment. Tom assures her that it has not happened to him.

Grampa and Granma run across the yard to greet Tom, and Granma proclaims their appearance with her distinctive shout, "Pu-raise Gawd fur vittory." Grampa, as usual, fumbles with the fly-buttons on his trousers. Noah, the eldest son, enters slowly behind his grandparents. He is unassuming, quiet, and reserved; in fact, he is almost listless about people and things. He hardly ever gets angry, has "no sexual urges," and although one cannot call him stupid, he does act strangely. Pa attributes Noah's strangeness to the night of his birth when Pa panicked and tried to pull and twist Noah during the delivery. The midwife who arrived later on pushed Noah's head back into shape and molded his stretched body with her hands.

Grampa and Granma are extremely happy to see Tom. Grampa thinks that Tom has broken out of prison and boasts that "they ain't a gonna keep no Joad in jail." Granma insists that Casy say grace before breakfast. Casy explains that he is no longer a preacher, but reluctantly agrees to say grace. Casy’s blessing is very long. In it he tells about how he tried to find a solution to his problems by wandering in the hills, just like Jesus who had gone into the wilderness. Casy says that he had identified with the hills and had felt “whole”; there was a sense of oneness with nature. This whole thing was holy. Humankind was also holy when everybody worked together: "When they're all workin' together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang--that's right, that's holy." After this long discourse, Casy realizes that he has made everybody's breakfast get cold. He almost forgets to say amen. Tom has not understood the prayer; he does not know what holy means.

Pa shows Tom the loaded down Hudson Super Six that Al, the sixteen year old brother, inspected before it was purchased. Al, whose chief interest is in girls, does know something about cars. Pa says that Uncle John has gone to town with the Joad children, Ruthie and Winfield, to sell some household belongings. He also informs Tom that Rose of Sharon has married Connie Rivers and is going to have a baby.

Al returns home strutting like a rooster. As soon as he recognizes Tom, his affected swagger drops away, and admiration and veneration shine in his eyes. He respects Tom for having killed a man and has gained popularity just by being his brother. Al is a bit disappointed to learn that Tom has not broken out of jail but is out on parole.

Notes

This chapter introduces the reader to the Joad family who, along with Casy and Connie Rivers, will journey westwards to California. The characters are described realistically, and the reader can visualize particular portraits of Pa, Ma, Uncle John, Noah, Grampa, Granma, and Al. Ma Joad is the binding force of the family. Her deep concern and fear that she may never see Tom again is indicative of her strenuous efforts to keep the family together. She seems to know that the family is dependent on her strength: "if she swayed, the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired, the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone." Since she is the one who is concerned about the interests of the family at large, she can understand Casy’s ideas of “wholeness” and share in them. After Casy says grace, Ma looks at him with intense eyes that were understanding. “She watched him as though he were suddenly a spirit, not human any more, a voice out of the ground."

Ma and Casy think in their different ways about how people might help each other by uniting together. Ma thinks that while Tom cannot fight the system alone, if the farmers came together and pooled their resources and energies, they could defend themselves. Casy thinks that holiness implies people working together. This theme of community help and getting together is developed later on in the novel.

The reunion of Tom with Ma is indeed touching. Ma lovingly feels, like a blind person, the strength of Tom's muscles and strokes his cheek. This foreshadows their last meeting in the novel where in the darkness of the cave she reaches out to feel Tom in a similar manner.

Chapter eight alludes to the symbol of the "grapes". The family is hopeful about picking enough grapes to provides them a comfortable way of life in California. Grampa exhibits great excitement at the prospect of sitting in a tub full of grapes. At this point in the novel, nobody knows that the grapes, symbolizing hope and a happier future, will mature into the grapes of wrath.


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