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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

After families like the Joads leave, their houses and land are left vacant. Tractors work the land, and the machines are alive with metal and oil. In contrast, the tenant farmers had used animals to work the land, creating a warm, breathing, natural environment. The tractors die when they are turned off. After work, the tractor drivers go to homes 20 or so miles away. They form no relationship with the land. They understand the land and human beings only in terms of the chemicals in it. The tenant farmers, however, had realized that the land and its people were much more than a chemical analysis.

In the vacant house, little boys break the windows. Cats creep through the rooms. Bats sweep through the house and eventually hang from the rafters. Weeds and grass grow by the front door, where they had not previously been allowed. Sheathing splits apart, and dust settles on the floor. The wind loosens and lifts off shingles from the roof.

Analysis

Steinbeck divides Chapter 11 into two parts. In the first section, he contrasts the mechanical methods of farming used by the Bank monster with the more human methods of farming used by the tenant farmers. By doing this, he develops the Selfishness theme and the Individual versus Community theme. The Bank monster is concerned only with making more and more profits. It uses the land to maximize these profits. The most efficient way of farming the land is to use tractors to farm large areas. Detailed chemical analysis is used to get the most production out of the land. However, Steinbeck claims that this approach creates a cold, dead relationship with the land. Nothing living remains on the land. No strong bond is made with the land. Everything becomes scientific and objectified. As a result, this approach has destroyed the community of tenant farmers, which was based on the strong bond between the farmers and the land. The tenant farmers had used animals to farm and created a warm, life-giving environment. They had lived on the land and formed a community based on working in harmony with the land. But the land is now the home of the "machine man, driving a dead tractor." The machine man is just an individual using a tractor to exploit the land for the selfish needs of the Bank monster.

In the second part of this chapter, Steinbeck conveys the mood of the houses after the tenant farmers vacate them. The general tone is one of sadness, loss, and waste. In the previous chapters, the author establishes that the tenant farmers have a strong connection with the houses where they live. These places are their homes. In this chapter, Steinbeck shows what happens to these homes after the farmers leave. The reader knows that the rooms where cats creep, bats fly through, and kids break windows were once places where people lived, laughed, and grieved. So Steinbeck does not need to describe how people used to live in these rooms. All he needs to do is describe the weeds growing under the porch, the dust settling, and other details to convey the sadness, loss, and waste of these vacated buildings.

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