The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 3 begins by describing how seeds are waiting in dry land to be attached to something moving, such as a man's trouser cuff, and be transported to another place. Then the author depicts various forms of insects, including ants, grasshoppers, and sow bugs.

After this, a land turtle moves slowly across the grass to a highway embankment. Details about the turtle are included, such as its "hard legs and yellow-nailed feet" and "fierce, humorous eyes." The author conveys the step-by-step procedure the turtle uses to climb the embankment. The turtle methodically succeeds in getting onto the highway. Now the turtle's journey appears to be easier as it moves across the flat pavement. However, a truck approaches the animal and the driver intentionally runs it over, sending the shell flying. Time passes, and the turtle extends its legs and head out of the shell and turns itself upright. The turtle then crawls down the embankment and enters a dirt road.

Analysis

In Chapter 3, Steinbeck introduces two symbols, seeds and the land turtle, that are referenced in various ways later in the novel. The seeds, a minor symbol, are waiting to be transported. These seeds are passive but have "appliances of activity" that can attach to animals' fur or human clothing and thereby be transported. The seeds represent the farmers in Oklahoma, who are passive because they have lived on the land for generations and will continue to stay put unless something comes along and propels them to move. The farmers have a potential for activity, which, at the present time, remains hidden.

In this chapter, the major symbol is the land turtle. It moves slowly and deliberately, one step at a time. The turtle is single-minded and determined. It is focused on its course, and nothing else seems to matter. With a thick, defensive shell, it can withstand any physical harm.

The turtle, therefore, represents a single-minded, step-by-step movement along a path. If violent forces strike, they will be endured. The journey along the path will continue. For Steinbeck, this focused journey applies to the Joad family and other families moving to California. Throughout the novel, characters in the Joad family discuss the need to focus on the present; they take one step at a time and try not to worry about forces beyond their control. No matter what obstacles they face, the Joads continue to plod ahead to California and try to find work because they believe they must do it this way to survive. There seems to be no other viable course of action.

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