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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck


The Joads cover 200 miles the first day. By sundown we have met one of many roadside characters who, in contrast to the Joads, have failed to endure life's hardships. We see the family dog crushed by a speeding car. We also meet Sairy and Ivy Wilson, a couple from Kansas with a disabled car and a belief in charity for all. That night Grampa Joad dies in the Wilsons' tent and later is buried wrapped in Sairy's quilt. His death creates a tight bond between the two families.

That Grampa dies so soon comes as no surprise. Casy explains why: "Grampa an' the old place, they was jus' the same thing." Removing him from the land was like pulling his plug. With the connection broken, the old man lost his will to live, and he dies quickly of a stroke.

Grampa's death makes sense. He's a superfluous member of the family. In the days when Grampa was in charge, the Joads had been a stable farm family. Now they are starting over as a road family. For the younger members of the group, life holds endless potential. Look at Rose of Sharon and Connie, for example. They are totally absorbed in their unborn baby, the next generation of Joads. They see a sleek Lincoln Zephyr glide by on the highway and talk of owning a car like that some day, but only after they buy a house for the baby to grow up in. Once in California, Connie will go to school and get a good job. Rose of Sharon will raise the baby in a little white house with a picket fence. The two of them are caught up in their private American dream.

Their dream may seem unreal to you. It should; life is not a fairy tale. But compare it to Grampa's vision of the future. To him California meant squeezing grapes over his head and letting the juice trickle down through his whiskers. Did Grampa know he talked nonsense? Dying on the first day hints strongly that he did.

If the youngest Joads are meant to dream, and the oldest to die, what's left for the middle generation- for Ma, Pa, Uncle John, and also Tom and Casy? Ma thinks her function is to keep the family going. She tells Al Joad, "That's all I can do. I can't do no more." Let's see how true Ma is to her word in the remainder of the chapter. When Al suggests that maybe they shouldn't have brought the preacher, Ma prophesies that Casy will help the family sometime. (Whether Casy will give the kind of help Ma needs remains to be seen.) At a roadside stop, Ma helps Granma relieve herself in the bushes (physical help). She comforts Rose of Sharon, shaken by the sight of their dog hit by a car (emotional help). Later, she fixes the food, prepares Grampa's body for burial, and agrees to ally the Joads with the Wilsons. "Each'll help each, an' we'll all git to California," she says. By the time she lays her head down to sleep, Ma has put in a solid day's work in behalf of her family.

Earlier in the day, Al pulls the Hudson into a filling station. The owner is hostile to the Joads. They aren't welcome unless they can buy gas. "Think we're beggin'?" says Al, pulling out his money. The fat owner quickly changes his attitude and nervously explains his suspicions. People "come in, use water, dirty up the toilet, an' then, by God, they'll steal stuff an' don't buy nothin'." The sweat-soaked fat man has no sympathy for the hordes of people going west. They puzzle him. "What they gonna do?" he asks. "I don't know what the country's comin' to."

Casy, ever willing to extend himself, tries to explain what, in fact, the country's comin' to: "People moving... 'cause they want somepin better'n what they got. An' that's the on'y way they'll ever git it." The man doesn't listen. He takes up his lament again: "I don't know what the country's comin' to."

Irritated, Tom tells off the fat man. "You ain't askin' nothin'; you're jus' singin' a kinda song." He scolds the man for doing nothing to improve his own lot. "Country's movin' aroun', goin' places. They's folks dyin' all aroun'. Maybe you'll die pretty soon, but you won't know nothin'."

Neither Tom nor Casy has anything to gain from trying to set the fat man straight. Why do they bother, then? Maybe each believes that life can be better, but only if you make it so. If you don't keep trying, you're licked. What bestows meaning on life is the effort you put into it. In short, Tom and Casy are trying to save the fat man from himself. They're crusaders, especially Casy, who says, "Here's me that used to give all my fight against the devil.... But they's sompin' worse'n the devil got hold a the country, an' it ain't gonna let go till it's chopped loose." Exactly what Casy thinks has snared the country is hard to tell at this point, but he gives the impression that he's going after it with the same fervor he once used to chase sinners.

Before he can devote himself entirely to his new cause, however, Casy has one more duty to perform in the old way. Realizing that her husband is dying, Granma insists that Casy say a proper prayer. Casy recites the Twenty-third Psalm. It seems that Casy won't be free to pursue his new religion of the people until the old generation is dead and buried.

Grampa's burial becomes a practical problem. What should be done with the body? The law says report the death and pay the undertaker forty dollars. But if your entire family fortune is less than two-hundred dollars, you may look for another way. They decide to bury Grampa on their own. In case the authorities find the grave, they will include a note in a bottle explaining the circumstances of the death and burial.

A time of grief often knits people together. As Grampa lays dying in the Wilsons' tent, the Joads and Wilsons, strangers that morning, become neighbors in the afternoon, and friends in the evening. Before the night is over, the two families will unite, for each can gain from being with the other. Al will fix the Wilsons' car. Some of the Joads will ride in it, lightening the load on the Hudson.  


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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc. Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of is prohibited.


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