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THE GRAPES OF WRATH: LITERARY CRITICISM / ONLINE NOTES
This interchapter describes the feeling of dispossession and anger felt by the tenants because of their evictions. They must either sell their prized possessions and cherished memories at ridiculous prices or burn them up. The women suffer an emotional shock, and the men want to get on the road. In the previous chapter Pa had told Tom that Uncle John has gone with Ruthie and Winfield to sell the household goods. Now Uncle John's experience is connected to that of the representative croppers. In the next chapter, Pa is afraid to tell Ma about the paltry sum he receives for their belongings.
When the decision to leave is finalized, the Joads also display the characteristic
restlessness and eagerness. Thus, the actions and experiences of the general
sharecroppers are parallels to the actions and experiences of the Joads.
The evicted tenants display sadness, but they are also angry and bitter.
Their bitterness poses a threat to society.
When the truck leaves loaded with the household things to be sold, Tom takes a trip down memory lane and visits familiar places--the red bank where swallows nested and the willow tree over the pigpen. When his pilgrimage is over, he goes and sits on the doorstep. Ma is working behind him in the kitchen. Tom and Ma start discussing California. Ma is afraid that life will not be as pleasant as the handbills which advertise jobs project. Things seem too nice to be true. Tom tells her to take one day at a time and not to worry too much about the future, a philosophy he learned in prison Tom has heard that conditions for the migrants are not too good in California. He knows a man from California who has told him that there are too many people looking for work. Consequently, the fruitpickers are paid low wages, live in dirty camps, and hardly have enough to eat. In addition, work is hard to get. When Tom shares this information, Ma listens, but desperately wants to believe the handbills. Grampa, who has been sleeping in the house, joins them and, as always, fumbles with his fly-buttons. Like the others, he is angry but dreams about sitting in a washtub full of grapes in California.
Casy asks if he can travel with the Joads to California. Ma waits for Tom to speak, but when he does not do so, she assures Casy that they would be proud to have him; but the men must make the final decision in a family meeting. Casy assures them that he is not going to preach anymore and just wants to be with the people because that, in itself, is holy. Tom explains his antipathy towards preaching, to which he was subjected in prison.
Pa and the others come back from town in the late afternoon. The men are tired, angry, and sad, because they have sold everything, horses, wagon, implements and all the furniture, for the paltry sum of eighteen dollars. They had not understood the system of bargaining and did not know what to do when the buyer's interest seemed to flag. The family then gathers for a meeting near the truck, which "was the new hearth, the living center of the family." Pa tells the family about the eighteen dollars. Al reports on the truck and explains why he chose to buy it. He is very elated when Tom compliments him for his wise decision. Tom then presents Casy's request to accompany them. Pa asks whether they can feed another person. Ma replies that the question is not whether they can or cannot feed another person, but that they must feed another person. The Joads have never refused food and shelter to anybody. The family agrees. Pa feels ashamed by the tone of Ma's voice, but questions whether there will be enough room in the truck. They decide that its already overcrowded, and one more won't make matters worse.
The family then discusses the time of departure. They decide to slaughter the pigs immediately, salt down the pork during the day, pack during the night, and leave by dawn the next day. Everybody chips in to help with the final chores and packing. Ma salts down the pork and refuses help from Casy saying that it is a woman's job. Casy says that there is too much work to be done to divide it into "men's or women's work." Ma then tells the men what things are to be taken along. She then goes through an old, soiled stationery box containing her mementos and souvenirs. It contains letters, photographs, earrings, a little gold ring, and a newspaper clipping of Tom's trial. She painfully selects a few items and tenderly lays the box among the coals in the stove.
Muley Graves arrives to bid them farewell. He requests the Joads to tell his
family that he is all right. The Joads ask him to join them. Muley feels
tempted to do so, but just can't leave the country. Grampa comes in and
says that he "jus' ain't agoin'..."This country ain't no good,
but it's my country. I'll jus' stay right here where I b'long." The
family decides to drug him with medicine, and when he is asleep, they
carry him to the truck.
This chapter marks the symbolical death of Grampa, who refuses to leave the farm; there is a strong bond that exists between him and the land. He feels his identity is dependent on this part of the country, and he knows he belongs here. He has to be drugged and physically carried away from the land. He never really wakes from this sleep and dies on the first evening of the journey. He is buried in a field next to the road. Casy remarks that Grampa was "jus' stayin' with the Lan'. He couldn' leave it." There is an indissoluble link between Grampa and the land, and he dies the minute he is taken away from it.
Ma Joad introduces the first element of doubt about the working conditions in California. She wonders whether things will be as good as advertised in the handbills. Tom then tells her about the dirty camps, scarcity of work, starvation, and pitiably low wages in California. He also tells her not to unnecessarily worry herself about things in the future and to take each day as it comes. This is the attitude that the migrants have to adopt. As they travel to California, they face innumerable difficulties and have to patiently face them.
Casy's character develops in this chapter. He begins to believe in a philosophy that exalts love of people over traditional Christianity. He realizes that just being with the people is holy and asks the Joads if he can accompany them on their journey to California. He believes that people must work together and help each other. He puts his belief into action when he salts down the pigs for Ma. He rightly says that there is too much work to be done to divide it into men's work and women's work.
It is also important to notice the new importance of the truck to the family.
It has become the new living center of the family. As the story progresses,
trucks and roadside cafes play an increasingly prominent part in the novel.
The truck becomes an important symbol; with its mobility, the truck marks
the transition from a relatively fixed and stable agrarian way of life
to the instability of the migrant way of life.
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