The Grapes of Wrath Summary and Analysis
Chapter Eleven: The houses were left vacant. Only the tractor sheds of gleaming iron and silver were alive. Yet when the tractors are at rest the life goes out of them. The work is easy and efficient, so easy that the wonder goes out of the work and so efficient that the wonder goes out of the land and the working of it. In the tractor man there grows the contempt that comes to a stranger who has little understanding and no relation to the land. The abandoned houses slowly fall apart.
This chapter provides one more critique of the new means of cotton production overtaking the farms. The fate of the tractors contrasts sharply with that of the farmers who once worked there. The tractors and their drivers have no connection to the land, little understanding and no relationship with it. The farmers, in contrast, have a deep and long-standing affection for the land on which they lived and worked, part of the reason why Grampa, in the previous chapter, refused to leave Oklahoma. Steinbeck also continues to remind the reader that the tractors are inhuman. He creates a mock metaphor in which the tractors go home at the end of the day' and go to sleep' to demonstrate how far that experience is from an actual human one. Steinbeck even explicitly states how "dead" the tractors are, comparing one to a corpse.
Chapter Twelve: Highway 66 is the main migrant road stretching from the Mississippi to Bakersfield, California. It is a road of flight for refugees from the dust and shrinking land. The people streamed out on 66, possibly breaking down in their undependable cars on the way. Yet the travelers face obstacles. California is a big state, but not big enough to support all of the workers who are coming. The border patrol can turn people back. The high wages that are promised may be false.
Steinbeck foreshadows a number of the problems that the Joad family will face on their travels. He highlights the problems that people often have with their cars and the possibility of breakdowns, a problem the Joad family may soon face considering their unreliable vehicle. Also, the chapter begins to make it clear that the final destination in California may not be a panacea for the Joad's problems. Even if they reach the California border, they may be turned back. So many others are doing the same that there is bound to be an overcrowded job market for migrant workers in California. Arrival in California does not necessarily mean that the Joad's problems will be solved or that they will be in an even marginally better situation than they were in Oklahoma.
Chapter Thirteen: The Joads continue on their travels. Al remarks that they may have trouble getting over mountains in their car, which can barely support its weight. Grampa Joad wakes up and insists that he's not going with them. They stop at a gas station where the owner automatically assumes they are broke, and tells them that people often stop, begging for gas. The owner claims that fifty cars per day go west, but wonders what they expect when they reach their destination. He tells how one family traded their daughter's doll for some gas. Casy wonders what the nation is coming to, since people seem unable to make a decent living. Casy says that he used to use his energy to fight against the devil, believing that the devil was the enemy. However, now he believes that there's something worse. The Joad's dog wanders from the car and is run over in the road. They continue on their journey and begin to worry when they reach the state line. However, Tom reassures them that he is only in danger if he commits a crime. Otherwise, nobody will know that he has broken his parole by leaving the state. On their next stop for the night, the Joads meet the Wilsons, a family from Kansas that is going to California. Grampa complains of illness, and weeps. The family thinks that he may suffer a stroke. Granma tells Casy to pray for Grampa, even if he is no longer a preacher. Suddenly Grampa starts twitching and slumps. He dies. The Joads face a choice: they can pay fifty dollars for a proper burial for him or have him buried a pauper. They decide to bury Grampa themselves and leave a note so that people don't assume he was murdered. The Wilsons help them bury Grampa. They write a verse from scripture on the note on his grave. After burying Grampa, they have Casy say a few words. The reactions to the death are varied. Rose of Sharon comforts Granma, while Uncle John is curiously unmoved by the turn of events. Casy admits that he knew Grampa was dying, but didn't say anything because he couldn't have helped. He blames the separation from the land for Grampa's death. The Joads and the Sairy Wilson decide to help each other on the journey by spreading out the load between their two cars so that both families will make it to California.
The first stop that the Joads make reinforces the idea that they may not find work when they reach California because of a filled labor market. Yet even with the dire situation that the Joads face, they are nevertheless better off than some travelers, at the very least able to pay for gas.
Casy reiterates the idea that the nation faces a nearly unconquerable enemy. Although he does not explicitly identify this identity, its characteristics indicate that it is the capitalist system that was earlier vilified. He identifies the enemy as a system that precludes normal people from making a decent living. For Casy, this evil' is too powerful to effectively combat, a battle more strenuous than that against the devil.
Even early in the journey the Joads suffer a tragic loss, if one less significant than an actual family member. The family dog becomes the first victim on the journey. Its early demise, dying before the Joads even reach the Oklahoma border, foreshadows further losses that the family may suffer. Steinbeck further foreshadows problems that the Joads may face when Tom mentions parole violations. He is only in danger if he commits another crime. That danger may eventually arise.
The death of the dog is followed by the death of an actual family member. Despite his tough veneer of anger and bitterness, Grampa dies from a stroke. Since he was the one family member most adamantly opposed to leaving their home, it was likely the separation that hastened his demise. Casy makes a direct correlation between Grampa's death and their journey, reinforcing the idea that these people have a significant personal relationship with they farmed.
Throughout the novel, Casy frequently must perform the duties of a preacher. Despite his conviction that he no longer believes in preaching, he is forced into performing the role, whether praying for Grampa as he suffers his stroke or saying a few parting words after his burial. This seems to indicate that Casy is best suited for the role of a preacher, despite his disenchantment with religion. In his parting words for Grampa Joad, Casy does reiterate his belief that people are the source of holiness.
The agreement between the Joads and the Wilsons to aid each other on the way to California is a significant plot development, for it is in collective interests that these families find their strength. This is the first building block in a collectivist scheme that Steinbeck seems to support in which working class people come together for their collective interests.
Chapter Fourteen: The Western States are nervous about the impending changes, including the widening government, growing labor unity, and strikes. However, they do not realize that these are results of change and not causes of it. The cause is the hunger of the multitude. The danger that they face is that the people's problems have moved from "I" to "we."
This chapter makes an explicit political statement concerning the migration to the west coast. The owners and controlling powers fear the changes that are imminent and that threaten their interests. However, the owners are the cause of this change. By forcing the farmers from their land, they have created the hunger that afflicts them.
Steinbeck once again considers the definition and function of a man. According to him, a man is defined by what he creates and what work he does, and most importantly, by his ability for improvement. He warns against the time when mankind does not strive for improvement, even when that struggle leads to sacrifice. This is an attempt to create a larger perspective on mankind greater than the collective interest of individuals. According to Steinbeck, mankind is distinguished because men's actions can go beyond oneself. This adheres to the collectivist viewpoint throughout the novel.
This chapter also makes clear the adversary relationship between the owners and the working classes. The owners exploit individual interests in order to thwart the collective good. By forcing men to consider only their self-interest, the owners prevent the possibility that the collective interest may form and foment revolution.
Chapter Fifteen: This chapter begins with a description of the hamburger stands and diners on Route 66. The typical diner is run by a usually irritated woman who nevertheless becomes friendly when truck drivers consistent customers who can always pay enter. The more wealthy travelers drop names and buy vanity products. The owners of the diners complain about the migrating workers, who can't pay and often steal. A family comes in, wanting to buy a loaf of bread. The one owner, Mae, tells them that they're not a grocery store, but Al, the other, tells them to just sell the bread. Mae sells the family candy for reduced prices. Mae and Al wonder what such families will do once they reach California.
Instead of viewing the plight of the migrant families from the perspective of the Joads, this chapter gives another, somewhat less sympathetic perspective to their situation. For the people who own the diners and other small businesses along Route 66, the migrant workers are little more than a burden on them, asking these people, who are simply attempting to make a living, for handouts and charity. The men and women who work at the diners on Route 66 view the migrant families with a conflicting sense of loathing and compassion. They see these travelers as shiftless and threatening, yet do take pity on them. Mae and Al sell them a loaf of bread and Mae even sells the children candy for a much reduced price. Yet part of this compassion stems from impatience. It is easier to give the migrant families what they want and send them on their way.
The Grapes of Wrath Essays and Related Content
- The Grapes of Wrath: Essays
- The Grapes of Wrath: Questions
- The Grapes of Wrath: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- John Steinbeck: Biography
- The Grapes of Wrath Summary
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-5
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-10
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-25
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 26-30
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources