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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 21

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 21 of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 21 | Summary



The main highways are flooded with migrants like the Joads. Once simple agrarian folk, these people change when they become migrants. Because of their fear, hunger, and lack of work, the migrants become hostile. The local people who are not hungry are terrified of these migrants. The local people tell themselves they are good and the invading migrants are bad. Migrants are dirty, ignorant, and degenerate. The local people arm themselves with clubs, gas, and guns.

The migrants work for low wages and then even lower wages and then for scraps of food. This makes the owners glad because it keeps wages down and prices up. Owners build canneries and buy their own fruit at a low price, allowing them to make a profit on selling canned goods. The small farmers who don't own canneries can't compete and go out of business. Soon they join the migrants on the roads. Hungry migrants search for work, surrounded by fruitful fields and full granaries. Soon their hunger turns to anger and their anger ferments.


Steinbeck explores the growing anger of the migrants, mainly by focusing on the reasons for it. The narrator refers to anger only a couple of times in the chapter. First, he describes how hostility welds the migrants together. Then, at the end of the chapter, he discusses the thin line between hunger and anger. However, he describes in detail the various causes for anger, such as being forced off land, facing hostile local people, and dealing with the cruel wages and constant hunger. Most people realize that such circumstances would make a person angry. Indeed, circumstances such as these have made the Joads angry. Steinbeck, therefore, invites the reader to put themselves in the place of the migrants, including the Joad family. By the chapter's end, when the author describes how the migrants' anger begins to ferment, the reader fully understands why this is happening and identifies with it. This method harkens back to Chapter 14, where Steinbeck discusses the difference between causes and results and how landowners always focus on results. Obviously, for Steinbeck, the causes are of primary importance and therefore need to be understood to fully comprehend the plight of the Joad family and of migrants in general.

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