Grapes of Wrath Summar
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John SteinbeckThe novel The Grapes of Wrath tells the specific story of the Joad family, and thus illustrates the hardships and oppression suffered by migrant laborers during the Great Depression. It is explicitly political writing that encourages the collective action of the lower classes. Steinbeck takes this social stance and criticizes the shortsighted self-interest of Steinbeck’s novel. He also criticizes the corporate and banking elites who profit-maximizing policies ultimately led to starvation and destitution for farmers.
The novel begins with a description the Dust Bowl Oklahoma conditions that destroyed crops, and instigated large-scale foreclosures of farmland. Steinbeck does not reveal any characters at first; he will use this technique several times throughout the book to juxtapose descriptions of events in large social contexts with descriptions of more specific events that are specific to the Joad clan.
Tom JoadThe man is not yet thirty and he approaches the diner in pristine, but formal attire. He takes a ride with the truck driver and presses Tom for details. Tom eventually reveals that Tom was recently released from McAlester prison where he spent four years for killing a man during an argument. Steinbeck ends this exchange with a description of a turtle crossing the road. It serves as a metaphor about the struggles and triumphs of the working classes.
Tom is on his way home when he meets Jim Casy, an ex-pastor who has doubts about religious teachings and sin. After realizing that there was nothing wrong with the sexual relations he had made with the women of his congregation, he decided to quit the ministry. Casy believes that the holy nature of human nature is not derived from some distant God but rather from individuals. Steinbeck compares Tom’s return to the land with the arrival bank representatives to expel the tenant farmers. Although the possibility of working class rebellion is possible, there is no effective target for collective action.
Tom and Casy find the Joads house abandoned when they reach it. Muley GravesA local elderly man, who may not be insane, informs them that the Joads were evicted and that the family is now staying with him Uncle John. Muley’s family moved to California to look for work. However, Muley decided to stay.
Steinbeck describes the strategies car dealers use in order to exploit poor customers. Dealers find it easier to make more money selling used cars than selling reliable new ones.
Tom Joad sees the rest of his family living with Uncle John. He is a sad man who has been depressed since the death his wife many years ago. Tom’s mother is strong, solid and the moral center in family life. Noah’s brother may have suffered brain damage during childbirth. His sister, however, is healthy. Rose of Sharon (called Rosasharn by the family) is recently married and pregnant. Her husband is Connie RiversHe dreams of learning radios. Al, Tom’s younger brother is just sixteen years old. After the introduction to Steinbeck’s characters, a description of how items are sold by impoverished families that intend to leave Oklahoma and move to California is given.
Flyers advertising work in California fields led the Joads to plan to travel to California. Steinbeck will soon discover that these flyers are fake advertisements designed to drive down wages and draw more workers than is necessary. Jim Casy requests to travel with the Joads to California to work in the fields, rather than preaching at them. Before the family departs. Grampa Joad declares his refusal to go, but the family gives him medicine to knock him unconscious and takes him along. The following chapters will describe the empty houses left after Oklahoma farmers moved on to other jobs.
The Joad family loses 2 members almost immediately after their journey begins. The dog that is part of the Joad family is first to die. Grampa Joad dies from a stroke. Grampa Joad is killed by a stroke. The Wilson family provides support and the Joads decide to journey together to California. Steinbeck then continues the story with a longer statement about how the working class is developing a collective consciousness, shifting their perceptions from “I”, towards “we”.
The car of the Wilsons soon fails, and Tom and Casy contemplate separating temporarily from their extended family to fix it. Ma Joad refuses to let the family break apart even for a short time. Al and Tom do manage to find the part they need to fix the car in a junkyard. The Joads find a man from California returning to their journey. He tells them there is no work and the flyers promising work are false.
They are soon intimidated by California police officers, who mockfully call them and other migrant workers “Okies”. Granma gets very ill in the Joads’ first camp. However, she is comforted by some Jehovites who are only annoyed by Ma Joad. Ma Joad makes sure that the police do not stop the Joads while they are on their way. This is to hide the fact Granma’s death.
Steinbeck then describes the history and circumstances of California’s slavery and oppression. He predicts a revolution as the people living there are so deprived that they must take all they can get to survive.
They learn of Weedpatch from the Joads while they are searching for work at the next camp. There, residents are protected from harassment by police officers, and have access to amenities like baths and toilets. When police officers try to get into a fight with Tom, and other migrant workers in the area, Tom trips and Casy knocks Tom unconscious. Casy takes responsibility for the crime to keep Tom from taking blame and being sent back to prison for violating his parole. The family also begins to split apart. Uncle John gets drunk and Noah decides that he will leave society to live alone in the forest. Connie leaves his pregnant wife. Tom rescues Uncle John before they can move on. He is still haunted by guilt over his wife’s murder. They move north towards the government camp.
The Joads are stunned to see how well they are treated by the other residents at the government camp. This society even includes democratic elections. Tom also finds work quickly. However, the contractor is slower. Mr. ThomasHe is warned by his mother that trouble will ensue at Weedpatch’s weekend dance. They plan to incite violence by planting intruders in the camp, since the police cannot enter the camp if there’s trouble.
The Joads settle down at the government camp and enjoy a comfortable life. During Saturday’s dance, Tom and other residents help to defuse the situation and prevent the police from taking over the camp. The family realizes that their journey must go on, even though none of the Joads has found work after spending a month in Weedpatch. They all arrive at Hooper Ranch where they pick peaches together. They are striking and their wages are higher than usual. Tom learns that Jim Casy, the leader of the labor group that is organizing this strike, is Tom. Casy realizes that he needs to fight for collective action from the working class against the wealthy ruling classes after spending time in prison. Tom joins Casy in his efforts. Casy, Tom and other strike leaders engage in a fight against strike breakers. One of them kills Casy using a pick. Tom fights the man and wrestles the weapon away. Casy is then killed by him and he barely escapes being captured by police.
Tom wants to leave his family to avoid them taking responsibility. However, the Joads make the decision to move Tom to Hooper Ranch so that he can be in safety. They travel to the cotton fields north and Tom hides in the woods, while the rest of the family remains in a car. The family attempts to hide Tom’s identity, location, and age from their children. However, Ruthie Winfield discovers this during a fight between two of her siblings. Ma tells Tom of this, and he decides to leave his family and go solo, determined to fight to defend the cause that Casy died for. He promises to one day return to his family.
The rainy season begins almost immediately after Tom leaves his family. It causes huge flooding. The Joads find themselves in an extremely dangerous situation. Rose of Sharon gives birth suddenly, and they can’t escape flooding. The flood waters are rising rapidly and other families leave the camp. However, the Joads stay to try to stop them. The Joads fail to get the help of others and must flee their cars. Rose of Sharon gives birth to a stillborn baby, and Uncle John drops it in a box further down the creek. The family eventually finds shelter in a barn. A starving man and his son are trapped in the barn. Steinbeck concludes the novel with Rose Of Sharon, who barely recovered from giving birth, nursing the dying man to bring him back to life.