The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition)
Home : The Grapes of Wrath : Study Guide : Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-17

The Grapes of Wrath Summary and Analysis

by John Steinbeck

Chapters 14-17

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."

Analysis:

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.

Analysis:

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.

Chapter Sixteen: The Joads and the Wilsons continue on their travels. Rose of Sharon discusses with her mother what they will do when they reach California. She and Connie want to live in a town, where he can get a job in a store or a factory. He wants to study at home, possibly taking a radio correspondence course. There is a rattling in the Wilson's car, so Al is forced to pull over. There are problems with the motor.

Sairy Wilson tells them that they should go on ahead without them, but Ma Joad refuses, telling them that they are like family now and they won't desert them. Tom says that he and Casy will stay with the truck if everyone goes on ahead. They'll fix the car and then move on. Only Ma objects. She refuses to go, for the only thing that they have left is each other and she will not break up the family even momentarily. When everyone else objects to her, she even picks up a jack handle and threatens them.

Tom and Casy try to fix the car, and Casy remarks about how he has seen so many cars moving west, but no cars going east. Casy predicts that all of the movement and collection of people in California will change the country. The two of them stay with the car while the family goes ahead. Before they leave, Al tells Tom that Ma is worried that he will do something that might break his parole. Granma has been going crazy, yelling and talking to herself. Al asks Tom about what he felt when he killed a man. Tom admits that prison has a tendency to drive a man insane.

Tom and Al find a junkyard where they find a part to replace the broken con-rod in the Wilson's car. The one-eyed man working at the junkyard complains about his boss, and says that he might kill him. Tom tells off the one-eyed man for blaming all of his problems on his eye, and then criticizes Al for his constant worry that people will blame him for the car breaking down. Tom, Casy and Al rejoin the rest of the family at a campground not far away. To stay at the campground, the three would have to pay an additional charge, for they would be charged with vagrancy if they slept out in the open. Tom, Casy and Uncle John eventually decide to go on ahead and meet up with everyone else in the morning. A ragged man at the camp, when he hears that the Joads are going to pick oranges in California, laughs. The man, who is returning from California, tells how the handbills are a fraud. They ask for eight hundred people, but get several thousand people who want to work. This drives down wages. The proprietor of the campground suspects that the ragged man is trying to stir up trouble for labor.

Analysis:

Rose of Sharon stands as a stark contrast to the rest of the characters in The Grapes of Wrath. She is the only adult character who retains some sense of hope for their future; she believes in the possibility of living a decent life with her husband and eventual child. The other characters expect little more from California than meager survival, while Rose of Sharon hopes to live the traditional American dream. She is the one beacon of hope within the Joad family. Even her younger brother, Al, does not have a similar optimism. He is defensive and combative, consistently worried that others will blame him for problems with the car.

Ma Joad once again reveals herself to be the center of the Joad family when she demands that they not leave Tom and Casy behind, even temporarily. She leaves the family no option but to remain together, even threatening violence against anybody who opposes her. In doing so, she reiterates the idea that the strength that these people have is in unity.

Steinbeck makes it quite clear by the end of the chapter that once the Joads reach California they may not find work. Casy mentions that he has seen numerous others travel westward, but has seen nobody travel back east, and the ragged man that the Joads meet at the campground confirms this fear. Even worse than a crowded labor market is the fact that the presumed opportunities for jobs are a fraud, inducing too many workers in order to drive down wages. The ragged men even suggests that the Joads will face a worse fate in California than they did in Oklahoma. For revealing this information, the ragged men is automatically pegged as a labor agitator, a derisive label consistently given to those who expose social injustices.

The one-eyed man serves as yet another picture of the American experience. He is garish and grotesque and his introduction is a break from the realistic depiction of the novel. The one-eyed man reveals his life story almost immediately, a device that is far from dramatically realistic but serves to give him some layering. He is one of the many workers the Joads encounter, but he is not insignificant. Steinbeck gives him some personality and history to emphasize the importance of all working people, whether or not they are the focus of this particular story. His appearance also demonstrates once again that Tom is forthright and direct. He will not shy away from standing up to a person, a quality that gives him an air of authority but may prove dangerous.

Chapter Seventeen: A strange thing happened for the migrant laborers. During the day, as they traveled, the cars were separate and lonely, yet in the evening a strange thing happened: at the campgrounds where they stayed the twenty or so families became one. Their losses and their concerns became communal. The families were at first timid, but they gradually built small societies within the campgrounds, with codes of behavior and rights that must be observed. For transgressions, there were only two punishments: violence or ostracism. Leaders emerged, generally the wise elders. The various families found connections to one another

Analysis:

This chapter focuses on the society of the migrant workers, a somewhat idealized society that forms spontaneously. It is an essentially communal society, one with rules and regulations determining polite behavior and enabling the various, disparate families to find common interests. In essence, Steinbeck uses the campground life to build a utopian society in which ostentatious display of wealth is shunned, equality reigns and no real ruling class emerges. The closest to a ruling class that emerges is the elderly, who rule from wisdom and experience.

The Grapes of Wrath Essays and Related Content