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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 14

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 14 of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 14 | Summary



The West is apprehensive of change. The wealthy landowners are concerned because they sense this change. However, the owners focus on results and not on causes, so they worry about the growing labor party and new taxes. The causes, however, are deeper and simpler: a person's hunger, need for intellectual growth, and desire to create more than him or herself. Humans are different from animals because they want to achieve their concepts. Humans grow by taking one step forward and a half step back. Various conflicts, such as wars and labor strikes, show that the human spirit has not died but instead is still striving to take the next step.

The land companies drive people off the land. They use tractors to plow the land, which are bad because they are used to serve the "I" and not the "we." If the tractor plowing the land—and the land itself—belonged to the people, then the tractor would serve the good. People would remain connected to the land. But the tractor of the land companies "turns the land and turns us off the land."

A single family driven from the land, such as the Joads, will become lost and bewildered. However, when one migrant family makes friends with another migrant family, then they are both less alone and lost. This is what the land companies should worry about. As more people join together, they support one another, gain strength, and form a movement that has direction. But the act of owning freezes the land companies forever into the "I" and cuts them off from the "we." Need has stimulated people to form concepts, and concepts lead to action. "The Western States are nervous under the beginning of change."


Steinbeck archives a social shift the western part of the United States. He is aware that the labor movement in the 1930s is starting to be more widely accepted. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act required employers to bargain with unions for more benefits for employees. Many business owners were upset by this and worried about the growing labor party and the widening influence of the government. Steinbeck, though, claims that big-business owners focus on the wrong thing. If they focused on the causes, instead of the results, then they could prevent the need for labor unions. According to Steinbeck, humans have an innate need to step forward and achieve a concept that improves life. This type of urge requires a sense of working with people to improve the common good. It requires a sense of "we," not "I." However, the author concludes that the business owners are incapable of doing this, because they are frozen in the "I." By stressing this, Steinbeck shows how the theme of Individual versus Community applies to the mindset of business owners.

Also, Steinbeck shows how the theme of selfishness relates to the theme of Individual versus Community. The tractor is bad only because it is used to serve the selfish desires of the individual. The tractor, therefore, not only removes people from the land but also increases the barriers between people. It helps to increase profits for the individual owners, thereby increasing their separation from the human community. As a result, the owners are separated from the harm they do to other people. In response to this, the migrant families must take action to counteract this single-minded process that is ruining their lives. The strength of these families lies in unity, in the community. Two families share food and are less hungry. The more people take care of one another's needs, the more they grow in strength. One woman gives another a blanket for her baby. Steinbeck claims that the business owners should bomb the shared blankets and shared food, for these shared goods between people mark the beginning of a strong community based on "our" that will threaten the business owners frozen in "I."

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