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Free Study Guide-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck-Free BookNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 19

Summary

Once California belonged to Mexico. The Americans, hungry for land, took California from the Mexicans, who were weak and could not resist the frantic efforts against them. With the passage of time, the squatters in California became the landowners. As the Americans became prosperous, they stopped working on their land and employed cheap labor imported from places like China, Japan, and Mexico. Farming became an industry, with the small farms being bought up by the larger ones, which specialized in particular crops. Although they owned the farm on paper, the new farmers lost all contact with the life-nourishing earth. Many of the owners had never even seen the farms they owned.

Migrants from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arkansas begin to arrive in California in greater and greater numbers. The owners hate the migrants because they are hungry and fierce; they realize their own vulnerability and feel that the newcomers threaten their security. As a result, the landowners lower wages more in order to earn extra money to pay guards that can protect their property.


The migrants settle in Hoovervilles and look for work. Sometimes a lone migrant would secretly cultivate a fallow field, believing that a "crop raised--why, that makes ownership." A deputy would discover their crops and destroy them. The landowners are determined never to give up any of their land. In so doing, they ignore three lessons from history: when property accumulates in too few hands, it is taken away; when a majority of the people are cold, hungry, and homeless, they will take by force what they need; and repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. Foolishly, the owners only consider the means to destroy revolt while the causes of revolt continue unabated. This leads to their ultimate downfall.

Notes

In this interchapter, Steinbeck uses the newsreel technique of John Dos Passos and provides a historical account of the pattern of land ownership in California. Over the years, the larger ones, creating huge farming industries have purchased the smaller farms; these large concerns have always used cheap migrant labor for the hard work on the farms. The owners cut the wages of the migrants whenever possible and spend the extra money on hiring guards to keep the migrants in line. The landowners fail to realize that repression does not curb revolt; instead, it strengthens it. Thus, this chapter foreshadows the potential social and political upheaval hidden in the misery of the migrants.

The chapter forms a group with chapters 21 and 25; all three have the thematic concern of land ownership in California. These chapters provide the background information and place the individual plight of the Joads in the larger context.

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