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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE STORY CHAPTER 2

A huge shiny-red tractor-trailer, its engine roaring, stands by a roadside diner. Tom Joad, freshly sprung from the penitentiary at McAlester, persuades the trucker to give him a lift, despite the No Riders sign. "Sometimes a guy'll be a good guy even if some rich bastard makes him carry a sticker," says Tom.

How can the trucker refuse to give Tom a ride after such a statement? He wants to be a "good guy" and he certainly wouldn't like to be considered his boss's stooge.

NOTE: The incident tells us something about ties between workers and employers. Doesn't the driver's willingness to pick up Tom suggest that at some point kinship among working people begins to carry more weight than the power of bosses? Steinbeck has begun to develop an idea that later balloons into a major theme in the novel- how working men wield power when they stick together.


Tom's conversation with the driver introduces us to background material about the condition of the land (it's "dusty"), about farmers who have quit (they're "going fast now"), and life on the road (truck drivers become "goddamn sick of goin'"). It also gives the reader a chance to learn about Tom (his father is "a cropper," i.e., a sharecropper), and that Tom is on his way home after serving four years behind bars for homicide.

If we judge Tom by the way he talks to the driver, he seems to have a great big chip on his shoulder. He's coarse and insulting, hardly the kind of fellow you'd like for a traveling companion. Why he berates the truck driver who has done him a favor is unclear. Maybe Tom is just an ungrateful tough guy. On the other hand, his aggressiveness might be explained by his clothes, which brand him as a new ex-con. He knows that people are inquisitive. They probe and sometimes ask embarrassing questions. Acting tough will keep nosy people at a distance.  

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