The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

In Uncle John's kitchen, Tom talks with Ma about California. Ma doubts California is a land of plenty, saying she fears "somepin' ain't so nice about it." Tom tells her not to worry about the future and instead to just focus on the present. But he admits that a guy who came back from California said the state has too many workers. Casy enters and asks if he can go with them to California. Ma says that he would most likely be welcome but that the family has to talk about it first.

Al drives a truck toward Uncle John's house, with Uncle John and Pa seated next to him and Ruthie, Winfield, Rose of Sharon, and Connie standing in the truck bed. Ruthie is starting to develop sexually and tries to act like a lady. Windfield is a "snot-nosed" kid who is kind of wild. Rose of Sharon is a young woman who is a few months pregnant and has "the self-sufficient smile, the knowing perfection look." Her husband, Connie, is a lean young man who is a hard worker. Uncle John has extreme mood swings and habits, such as abstaining from liquor for a long time and then drinking himself into a stupor. Al feels a strong responsibility for taking care of the truck. All three men are angry about being cheated by the person who bought their team and wagon and other equipment.

After the truck arrives at Uncle John's house, Ruthie and Winfield happily but shyly greet their older brother Tom. Rose of Sharon introduces her husband, Connie, to Tom. The family then has a meeting to prepare for the trip, during which they discuss the condition of the truck and agree that Casy can come along. The men slaughter their pigs and carve them up. Tom then suggests they get ready to leave that night instead of waiting until the next day. The family agrees and a flurry of activity commences. Ma and Noah prepare the pork; Rose of Sharon helps with the packing; and Tom loads the tools. Ma makes the difficult decision about what personal belongings to leave behind. The family loads the truck, and then Muley comes to say good-bye. Suddenly, Grampa decides he's not going to leave. Instead of forcing him, the family drugs Grampa's coffee. He drinks it and goes to sleep. The family then carries Grampa to the truck. Everyone gets into the truck. The truck pulls away with Al driving, leaving "Muley standing forlornly in the dooryard looking after them."

Analysis

In Chapter 10, Steinbeck develops the theme of the community of humanity by using the Joad family as a microcosm of this community. This family works together for the mutual benefit of its members, as opposed to the machine-like Bank monster, in which people work for the selfish benefit of the monster. Each person in the Joad family has a well-defined position. Steinbeck defines these roles by the way the family members position themselves during the meeting. Pa and Uncle John squat in the center; they are the leaders. Grampa sits nearby; he is no longer the leader but remains part of the nucleus. Tom, Connie, and Noah are not the main leaders but, as men, are seen as secondary leaders. They squat near Pa and Uncle John. Ma, Rose of Sharon, and Granma stand around the squatting men. They are not the leaders, but they are seen as a support for the family. Ruthie and Winfield squirm near the women. They hold the lowest position within the family.

The family works well together, each member doing his or her job. Steinbeck shows this during the killing and carving up of the pig. Each family member does his or her part without being told what to do. They all know their roles. As a result, the pig is slaughtered efficiently. The only person who breaks this prescribed method is Casy, when he helps Ma salt the pork. Ma is surprised because "it's women's work." Also, family members show kindness and consideration for other members. Ma worries about going to California, thereby foreshadowing that the Joads might face problems in this state. Tom tries to give her good advice. Al takes his role as the truck specialist very seriously and tries to make sure the truck is in good condition for the benefit of the family. The family decides to drug Grampa because they fear that forcing him to go on the trip would harm the old man.

Steinbeck subtly develops the theme of Individual versus Community in this chapter. This development deals with a person having a narrow vision of the world as opposed to a wider vision. Ma doubts that California is a place where "little fellas go out an' pick oranges right off the trees." Tom tells her not to worry too much about the future but instead to focus on each day. In a way, this is good advice. Ma admits, "that's a good way." Such an approach can reduce anxiety. Like the land turtle, Tom advises to just put one foot in front of the other each day and single-mindedly head down the path. It's no surprise that Tom learned to do this in prison, a place of extreme confinement. This approach helps the individual to cope with life's hardships. However, this approach also has its limitations. Perhaps if the Joad family had a wider view, they would realize that going to California is chasing a false dream. They might realize that they are joining a community of migrants who are being exploited. In contrast, Casy is constantly thinking outside the box. He realizes that something bigger is happening, and he wants to learn what it is. He has a wider vision. For example, he offers to help Ma salt the pork even though its "woman's work." Casy says, "It's all work." He sees beyond the strict gender work roles. He justifies his actions by saying, "They's too much of it to split it up to men's or women's work."

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