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The narrator pieces the story of his ancestors together from hearsay and photographs. Samuel and Liza Hamilton came to the Salinas Valley in 1870 from Ireland and settled on the worst land in the region because all the good land had already been taken. They did, however, wind up with 1760 acres on which Samuel built a house, a barn, and a blacksmith shop.
The Hamiltons had nine children. To support his large family, Samuel worked as a blacksmith and a well digger. He also acted as an amateur doctor for his own family and the families on surrounding farms. Samuel was appreciated for his services and well liked for his wit, humor, and moral uprightness. His wife, Liza, was Samuel’s opposite in many ways. Although she also had a strict moral code, she had a humorless manner.
The first European settlers to the Salinas Valley were land greedy and grabbed large parcels for themselves. The size of the land, however, did not guarantee wealth. Some people arrived in Salinas Valley with money and retained their wealth. Adam Trask was one of these. He planted wheat in the fertile land of the valley and made more money.
In presenting his characters in this chapter, their economic status is kept at the forefront. Steinbeck defines the working class family of the Hamiltons and sets up the contrast between them and the ruling class character of Adam Trask, who will be described in the next chapter. Samuel Hamilton had to accept the worst land in the valley, for he arrived after the best land had been grabbed by other settlers. He then had to work hard as a blacksmith and well digger to support his large family that included his wife and nine children.
Steinbeck’s style is always realistic and sometimes naturalistic. His prose style is characterized by a spare exactitude. He uses surprising and yet mundane metaphors and similes. For example, he describes Liza Hamilton’s ability to bear children with bluntness: "She must have had a pelvic arch of whalebone, for she had big children one after the other."