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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck


If you're a sensitive person and about to leave the country of your birth forever, how might you feel? A bit sad, perhaps?

Most people would also be a little fearful of what the future might bring. Your uncertainty would be still stronger if you were about to travel 2000 miles because someone showed you a handbill on yellow paper saying that workers were needed to pick peaches, oranges, and grapes in California. On the other hand, you might also look forward to a new life in a better place.

That's Ma's mixed state of mind when the chapter opens. She tells Tom her fears. As a good son, what might Tom do? He could try to reassure her, tell her not to worry. But Tom is too honest for that. He says that "a fella from California" has told him that "they's too many folks lookin' for work right there now. An' he says the folks that pick the fruit live in dirty ol' camps an' don't hardly get enough to eat. He says wages is low an' hard to get any."

If Tom's information is correct, no one with a grain of sense would want to go to California. But since there's no place else for the Joads, Ma replies, "Oh, that ain't so." She denies it. What else can she do at this point? She also takes heart from Tom's advice to live one day at a time, a lesson he taught himself in prison.

Because Ma must prepare for the journey, she doesn't have enough time to fret, anyway. We know, however, that despite the optimistic face she shows to her family, Ma is worried.

To add to her worries, Pa, Uncle John, and Al return from town with just $18 to show for the sale of the Joads' horse, wagon, farm implements, and furniture. The three men are upset and angry. They sold too cheaply.

The last thing the Joads need now is car trouble. But suddenly, Al Joad, the family auto mechanic, announces that the old Hudson truck he bought has sprung a leak in the radiator and needs new brakes.

And to make matters still worse, the family learns that by leaving the state of Oklahoma, Tom will be breaking his parole. If caught, he would be sent back to McAlester for three more years. What should a man do in such circumstances? Let his family go alone? Stay behind and wander the countryside like Muley Graves? Or should he take a chance? Tom, it turns out, doesn't give the problem a second thought. His family needs him. Besides, the law has let him down in the past. Why should he begin to respect it now? He pledges to Ma that he will stay out of trouble, but as soon as he crosses the state line, Tom will become a fugitive.

When the Joads are beset with troubles, they call a meeting. Everyone knows where to sit: men huddle in the center, women behind them, children in the outer circle. Grampa, as the oldest, has the first word, even though his mind has gone silly. Anyone can talk, but decisions are made by the men.

In two ways this night's meeting differs from those of the past. Instead of assembling in the house, the family meets alongside the truck, which has suddenly become the Joads' "place." (The Joads, it seems, are being transformed from a "home" family into a "road" family.) Also for the first time, Al Joad joins the nucleus of men. As the family mechanic, he has earned a spot in the center. He reports on the condition of the truck: she's okay- weak, but she'll make it. On the road he'll be responsible for keeping the old Hudson rolling.

Then the group takes up Casy's request to join the family. Can they afford to feed still another person? Ma speaks up: "It ain't kin we? It's will we?" Adding that no Joad has ever refused food and shelter or a lift on the road to anyone who asked, Ma prevails. Casy is taken into the family. Have you noticed that Ma's authority has begun to creep into the family's decision-making?

If you've ever left home for any length of time, you're probably familiar with the feeling of restlessness most people feel before a trip. You're keyed up, you can't sleep, and time seems to pass oh, so slowly. You can't wait to get started. The same sense of urgency about getting underway hits the Joads that night. They decide to leave the next day instead of waiting.

Their night is filled with bustle. Slaughter the pigs and salt the meat. Collect tools from the barn, pack the clothes in boxes, gather pots and utensils from the kitchen. Load the truck. Make it even down below. Fill in the spaces with blankets. Throw the mattresses on top. If you don't need it, don't take it, we don't have much room!

Ma lets Casy salt the pork, and she retreats alone into the empty house. She finds her box of old family letters, clippings, and photographs. We see her holding it in her lap for a long time and remembering the years gone by. Then, biting her lip to keep from weeping, Ma places the collection gently into the stove. The flames lick up and over the box. For Ma, the past is over. Only the present counts now. By daybreak, the Joads are ready to go. All but one Joad, at any rate. At the last moment Grampa announces, "I jus' ain't agoin'." His reason is simple: "This here's my country. I b'long here." Grampa's rebellion may have been triggered by the sudden appearance of Muley Graves, come to bid the Joads goodbye, but can Grampa survive like Muley? The family thinks not. They devise a plan to spike Grampa's coffee with a "soothin' syrup." It works. Soon Grampa falls asleep and is hoisted onto the truck like a piece of baggage.

As the sun rises, the Joads' truck, groaning under its load, crawls slowly (like a turtle) onto the highway going west.  


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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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