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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 25 | Summary

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Summary

The spring in California is beautiful and fruitful. "Petals drops from fruit trees. ... The centers of the blossoms swell and grow and color." Scientists develop ways to produce more crops by devising disease-resistant roots. They produce sprays that protect trees against pests. They graft young trees and little vines. Men use their knowledge to produce plentiful, improved crops, including more productive wheat, sweeter apples, and more varieties of grape. The cherries ripen first, and much of the fruit is wasted. Then the prunes ripen, and many carpet the ground and rot. After this, pears are harvested and many also rot on the ground. Grapes are used to make poor wine, which has "no grape flavor at all, just sulphur and tannic acid and alcohol."

However, small farms are choked with debt, and soon their orchards will become part of big farms. Much of this plentiful harvest is destroyed to keep up the price. Oranges are dumped on the ground and sprayed with kerosene. A million hungry people like the Joads need this fruit. Potatoes are dumped in rivers and are guarded to prevent hungry people from "fishing them out." Pigs are slaughtered and buried. Children die of malnutrition because prices must stay up. As hungry people watch the food being wasted, they have a growing wrath. The narrator then invokes the symbol in the novel's title: "In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy."

Analysis

In Chapter 25, Steinbeck moves from beauty and plenty to destruction, waste, and crimes against humanity. This process is caused by the selfishness of the big landowners, who single-mindedly seek more and more profits. The first paragraphs of the chapter have lovely descriptions, such as "full green hills are round and soft as breasts" and "petals ... carpet the earth with pink and white." At first, scientists who develop new, disease-resistant crops seem like wonder workers who will benefit humankind; they are seen as "great men."

However, this beauty turns into horror. Steinbeck begins to explain this transformation with his descriptions of the fruit harvests. Although these harvests are plentiful, there is also great waste. For example, tons of pears are "yellow and soft," but many of them fall to the ground where they "ferment and rot." The ones that are picked are bought cheap and sent to canneries owned by the big landowners. Then the author reveals that hungry people are not allowed to eat the leftover crop because doing this would lower the price of produce. Steinbeck describes this situation as "a crime ... that goes beyond denunciation." People who are starving have to watch food being destroyed. The great people of science are actually pawns in the service of the landowners and banks. These scientists use their knowledge to increase profit, knowing the waste will happen.

Meanwhile, the small farmers cannot sell their crops because of the competition from the big farms. Soon, banks will own the little orchards, which connects back to the Bank monster described in Chapter 5. Like the Bank monster in Oklahoma, devouring the tenant farmer's land to gain more profit, the large landowners and the banks in California devour the little orchards to gain more profit.

At the end of the chapter, Steinbeck explores a major symbol of the novel—the grapes of wrath. As the big farmers produce and harvest huge crops, which involves destroying large portions of it, a symbolic crop grows within the souls of the hungry people who watch this waste. This crop consists of hatred at the injustice and cruelty of the landowners and their system. The crop is the grapes of wrath, which are "growing heavy for the vintage."

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