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

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THE GRAPES OF WRATH: LITERATURE NOTES / CHAPTER NOTES

CHAPTER 23

Summary

While the migrants are looking for work, they also look for entertainment. They find release in jokes, stories, occasional visits to a cinema, and drinking. In the evenings, sometimes the migrants will play the harmonica, guitar, and fiddle; as they make music, the others dance. Wherever the migrants go, there are preachers who give sermons and baptize infants. They also exhort the people to lead pure lives in order to attain salvation.

Notes

This is another interchapter; its purpose is to provide a sympathetic account of the migrants' leisure activities. Steinbeck implies that these people are the stuff of folk epics and folk music. The storytellers are respected, and they reinforce the migrants' dignity and faith in themselves. The jest and energy of the young dancers suggest an intense appetite for life. In contrast to the happiness at the dance, there are always preachers close by to warn about sin and frivolity; as they try to point the way to salvation, they make most of the migrants squirm with discomfort.


CHAPTER 24

Summary


There is constant bathing from early afternoon to evening as women and children clean up and ready themselves for the Saturday night dance. Ezra Huston, the chairperson of the central committee, has made plans to forestall the expected troublemakers. Willie Eaton, the chairperson of the entertainment committee, reports that twenty additional members have been appointed to the committee who are going to move about during the dancing and peacefully weed out the troublemakers. They have strict orders not to hurt anybody, for this would give the police an opportunity to interfere on grounds of rioting.

Al dresses for the dance and hopes to meet some girls. Rose of Sharon does not want to go to the dance because she is pregnant and hates it when people look at her. Moreover, she is still worried about Connie. Ma persuades her to change her mind and promises to tell any men who want to dance with Rose of Sharon that she is too ill to dance. Willie Eaton informs Tom that he has been appointed to stand guard at the front gate with a Native American named Jule Vitale; they have the responsibility of picking out the troublemakers.

Jule Vitale suspects some men as troublemakers; they say a Mr. Jackson has invited them. Jule says he will keep an eye on the men while Tom verifies the truth of their story. Jackson tells Tom that he has once worked with these men but has not invited them to the dance. The committee decides to watch the troublemakers carefully. Soon after the dance begins, the troublemakers insist on dancing with another man's girlfriend to provoke a fight. The committee moves in quietly and takes charge of them, but someone blows a whistle in the confusion. The deputies, waiting in cars outside the camp, are alerted; they demand that the guard open the gate, saying there is a riot inside. The guard tells them to listen to the quiet music. The deputies have no other option but to pull back and wait. The committee men surround the trouble makers and take them to Mr. Huston, who questions them. They are also migrants. and Mr. Huston accuses them of acting against their own people and orders them to be put out of the camp without violence.

Pa talks with a group of other migrants about unemployment and low wages. They realize that if they compete with each other for jobs then the wage decreases. A migrant named Black Hat tells how five thousand workers in Akron, Ohio organized a turkey shoot and walked through town with their rifles. After that the local people no longer bothered them. Black Hat suggests that perhaps they too should organize a turkey-shooting club.

Notes

The migrants display good organizational skill when they peacefully prevent trouble at their dance. They act sensibly and without any violence. The fact that they do not resort to violence, even when they have every right to do so, puts the troublemakers in an even more negative light. The deputies want to disrupt the camp because they fear this unity and organizational capability. They believe that with little effort these migrants could indeed take over California. For the landowners, the migrants represent a threat to their social and political stability.

Black Hat's story about the turkey shoot points out the strength that the people can achieve through organization and anticipates the strike by the peach gatherers in a later chapter.

The presence of the American Indian, Jule Vitale, in the novel is significant. He functions as the symbol of the destructiveness underlying American settlement and the western expansion pattern. But there is no further development of his character, and he remains on the level of abstraction to index and mirror the white American psyche.


CHAPTER 25

Summary

In spring, California is beautiful. The fruit blossoms and tender vegetables appear in abundance. Grapes, swelling from the old gnarled vines, cascade down to cover the trunks. All of California quickens with produce. The larger and better crops are the result of the use of the knowledge provided by scientific research, but at harvest time the canneries offer low prices. This bankrupts the small farmers, and only the large farmers survive because they own the canneries.

Huge quantities of fruit rot on the ground or are dumped, and men spray kerosene on the dumped fruit to prevent the migrants from taking it. At the same time, children die of malnutrition and starvation. The migrants cross the thin line between hunger and anger and "in the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy for the vintage."

Notes

This chapter describes the fertile California valley and comments on the remarkable scientific knowledge that produces the rich harvests. That same intelligence, however, can pour kerosene on the fruit to destroy it and keep it from the starving children. It also destroys the small landowners, who are unable to fight the economic system and the under-handed tactics of the large landowners. The chapter depicts the beginnings of the anger and wrath generated by the tremendous waste, and the meaning of the title starts to form.


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