The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

The Joads ride in their truck through Oklahoma from Sallisaw to Castle. As Al drives, he almost becomes one with truck as he listens for any noise that might indicate a breakdown. He stops the truck by the roadside, allowing people to relieve their bladders and eat "crisp particles from the pork bones."

The Joads ride their truck to Paden, where they stop to get gas at a rundown gas station. The gas-station owner complains that he's not getting enough trade and keeps wondering what the country is coming to. Casy and Tom talk to him about the large number of people moving. Rose of Sharon and Connie make plans for buying a house after they earn money in California. The Joads' dog wanders into the road and gets run over by a car. Rose of Sharon sees the accident and worries that the shock might harm the baby she's carrying. Tom and John drag the dead dog to the side of the road. The gas station owner says he'll bury the dog.

Tom now drives the truck. The Joads pass through Oklahoma City and approach Bethany, near the Oklahoma border. Ma worries about Tom crossing the state line and breaking parole. Tom says the only difference between a regular person and a person breaking parole is that the paroled person will get a stiffer sentence if he's arrested. Tom pulls the car over near a ditch, where a man works on a car. Tom asks the man if his family can camp here. The man appreciates Tom's courtesy and says, "Proud to have ya." A "wizened woman" comes out of the tent and welcomes the Joads. The Joad family starts to set up camp. The two folks with the car introduce themselves as Ivy and Sairy Wilson. The Joads realize that Grampa is sick. Sairy says that Grampa can lie down on the bed in their tent. Ma helps Grampa into the tent and lays him down. Casy examines Grampa and thinks he's having a stroke. Granma comes to see her husband and asks Casy to pray for him. He reluctantly says the Lord's Prayer. Grampa dies.

The Joads gather in a meeting and discuss how to bury Grampa. They could have a legal burial with an undertaker that would cost about 40 dollars, or they could have Grampa buried cheaply as a pauper. The first burial is too expensive, and the second seems undignified. Pa says he wants to bury his father himself without letting the officials know it. Others agree. Ma prepares the body for burying, placing coins over the closed eyes and using of strip of cloth to tie up the jaw. Rose of Sharon worries that the trauma of Grampa dying might harm her baby, and Ma and Sairy try to reassure her that it won't. The men dig the grave. Then Tom writes a note that identifies his grandfather and what he died of and places it in a jar. Ma puts the jar under Grampa's cold hands. The men place the body, wrapped in a comforter, in the grave, and then Casy says a prayer. Pa covers the corpse with dirt and starts to make a mound. Tom tells his father to leave the grave flat to disguise it better.

As the Joads and the Wilsons eat supper, Tom and Al share the idea of joining forces with the Wilsons. They can fix the car and keep it running. Also, some of the Joads could ride with the Wilsons, and the Wilsons could put some of their lighter belongings in the truck. As a result, the Joads would lighten their load. The families agree. They all go to sleep, except for Sairy, who "[braces] her body firmly against pain."

Analysis

Steinbeck further explores the Selfishness versus Kindness theme in Chapter 13. He uses the gas-station owner to start this exploration. This man is an independent owner trying to be like the people working for the large Companies. For example, his station is painted yellow in imitation of the big Company stations, but "the paint couldn't cover the old nail holes and the old cracks in the lumber." His imitation is a failure. He tries to be firm with migrant families who can't pay for gas. For this reason, he is at first ornery toward the Joads. When he learns that the family can pay, he softens. So the owner attempts to be tough and hard-hearted like the people working for the big Companies. However, once again, this attempt fails. He has allowed people to trade for gas. "One family traded a doll their kid had for a gallon."

At first, Tom is antagonistic toward the gas-station owner. However, when he realizes that the owner is poor, his attitude becomes more sympathetic. He says to the owner, "Pretty soon you'll be on the road yourse'f." The owner wonders how Tom knew that he and his family were thinking of moving. Steinbeck, therefore, is showing how people just concerned about getting ahead and making a profit often act selfishly toward other people. However, when people allow themselves to be affected by sympathy and understanding, they act more kindly toward others. Ironically, though, this gentler attitude can lead to financial problems, such as those the gas-station owner faces.

Later in the chapter, the Joads meet the Wilson family. Both families are poor migrants. When Tom asks if his family can camp next to the Wilsons, Ivy Wilson is at first annoyed and confused. He can't figure out why Tom is asking permission. When Tom reassures him that he's just being polite, Ivy seems relieved and takes a friendly attitude. The Joads and Wilson immediately form a bond. They are common people who recognize the needs of others and, as a result, are willing to be kind and help one another. They see one another as human beings, not as consumer objects to make a profit from. Sairy and Ivy immediately recognize that the Joads are in a difficult situation with Grampa and do what they can to help. Sairy offers her tent for Grampa to rest in and helps in preparing him for burial. The Joads realize that the Wilsons are in a jam with their broken-down car and offer to fix it. Eventually, the two families decide to join forces and travel together. For Steinbeck, kindness naturally leads to forming a community of humanity.

Also, Steinbeck deals with the theme of a narrow vision versus a wider vision. Early in the chapter, Ma says she can't worry much about the future because she has enough to think about with taking care of her family. Ma has taken the advice Tom offered in Chapter 10, to just focus on the present and not be concerned about what might happen. She has decided to narrow her vision. Later, the gas station owner keeps wondering "what the country's comin' to" and what all these migrants are going to do. These are big-picture questions. Tom just replies, "Tryin' to get along. That's all." Tom is trying to keep his focus narrow and gets annoyed at the owner with his constant questions. Casy, though, replies by using the symbol of the Gila monster. He describes how the monster can bite someone and hang on even when it is chopped in half. Also, the Gila monster poisons a person with its bite. The Gila monster relates to the Bank monster. The Gila is the entire system of greed that has taken hold of Americans, forcing poor people off their land and making them move. It is a system that will hang on for dear life until it is pried loose.

In addition, Steinbeck uses the death of the dog to foreshadow the many tragedies the Joad family will face. A dog getting run over on a highway is inevitable. The question is whether the Joads, like the dog, will be crushed by the onrush of catastrophes.

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