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After the beating, Cathy went through another dramatic change. She became more helpful around the house and was loving towards her parents. She worked on her studies and talked of finishing high school one year early. She even went to the tannery with her father in an effort to learn the business. Mr. Ames taught her bookkeeping and how to manage the company money. He was impressed with her good memory when she learned the combination to the safe after only one try.
One day her mother asked Cathy to go to the bank to get the money for payroll at the tannery.
Cathy seized the opportunity. She covered her clothing with an old apron, killed a chicken, drained its blood into a jar, hid the jar, burned the apron, and washed up. Then she left for her bank errand.
A fire broke out that night and consumed the Ames house before anything could be done to save it. At some point in the fire fighting, the crowd realized the Ameses were not among them. When the coroner went through the rubbish, he was surprised to find that the doors had been locked and the keys were not to be found.
The workers from the tannery, who had been helping to fight the fire, returned to work and found that the safe had been broken into. Then, in the carriage house, they found signs of a struggle. Cathyís cross necklace and hair ribbon were found inside, as well as blood on the floor. They believed Cathy had been abducted or killed. People from the town went searching in ponds and in the woods for Cathyís body. They harassed the hobos and the gypsies until they came up with a "bumbling hairy half-wit." They questioned him until he confessed to the crime. When he came before the judge, however, the judge realized he had not killed Cathy. Before long, the town forgot about the incident altogether.
Steinbeck portrays Cathy Ames as a monster who was born with a moral deviance that caused her to lie, steal, be promiscuous, and murder. His notion that morality could be biologically determined was in keeping with some popular theories of his time. Steinbeck does not openly accuse Cathy of any wickedness in this chapter; instead, he describes her strangeness and her fatherís concern about her behavior. He, therefore, leads the reader to believe that Cathy had some involvement with Mr. Grew that caused him to kill himself; he makes the reader think that the boys had not really tied Cathy up and raised her skirt; and he makes the reader believe, beyond a doubt, that Cathy set fire to her parents home, burning them inside, broke into the tannery safe and stole the money, and set up what appeared to be her own murder.
Although there is some definite action in this chapter, Steinbeck is really still in the introductory section of the plot. He is describing his main characters and setting them up as types. When they all come together, the plot will be launched, and the interactions of these typed characters will create a story with an inevitable working out of its own logic as any determinist vision will do.