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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

The migrant people hunger for amusement. In the camps along the road, they gather around storytellers, who weave heartfelt tales. If migrants have the money, they go to movies. Afterward, they talk to other migrants about the amazing stories they saw on-screen. Migrants sometimes get drunk and daydream about old times. They play musical instruments like the harmonica, which is easy to carry. Some play the guitar, which requires time to learn. Guitars are passed on from father to son and are often played in the evening. A few play the fiddle, which is difficult to learn. Sometimes migrants form small bands, and people square dance energetically to the music. Also, preachers provide entertainment by holding lively meetings where people "[grovel] and [whine] on the ground." Then the preacher throws people into water and prays over them. And the people go home, convinced that they are saved.

Analysis

For Steinbeck, amusements not only entertain migrants, but also serve as a shared experience. Groups listen intently to stories, and all the listeners "[become] great through them." A man might go to a movie by himself, but he always shares what he saw with his fellow migrants. The migrants often play music together in bands. People listen and then spontaneously square dance. A Texas boy and Cherokee girl dance until they pant but keep on going. Also, the prayer meetings are shared entertainment in which preachers compel people to "grovel and whine" and be cleansed in the water together. Getting drunk is the only amusement that Steinbeck depicts as solitary. Only then can a person be alone to imagine his or her wishes being fulfilled and think of better times.

In this chapter, Steinbeck continues to develop the motif of music as the heart and soul of the people. A person can easily carry a harmonica, allowing him or her to express feelings at any moment. A son plays guitar for his father, forming a bond between them. The Texas boy and Cherokee girl dancing to music leads to them to go out together in the moonlight.

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