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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 4 of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 4 | Summary



In Chapter 4, Steinbeck introduces a major supporting character: the ex-preacher Jim Casy. As Tom walks down a dusty road, he comes upon the land turtle. He picks up the turtle and wraps it in his coat as a gift for his younger siblings. Tom then heads for a willow tree and finds a man sitting in the tree's shade. Steinbeck describes the man as having a long head and a neck "as stringy and muscular as a celery stalk." The man recognizes Tom as a boy he baptized in an irrigation ditch. Tom remembers the baptism and realizes that the man is a preacher named Jim Casy. They greet each other and share a drink of whiskey from Tom's bottle.

Tom squats next to Casy, who notices the turtle squirming in Tom's coat. Tom says that the turtle is a present for his little brother. Casy then tells Tom that he's not a preacher anymore; though he has "the call to lead people," he feels there is "no place to lead 'em." He goes on to explain that he quit preaching because he used to have sex with women after he baptized them, which made him feel like a hypocrite. Also, Casy figures there is no sin. The Holy Spirit is really the spirit of love between people, so it's more like the human spirit. Tom listens to Casy but doesn't understand why he thinks about things so much.

Casy asks Tom why he hasn't been home for four years. Tom explains that he was in prison for killing a man and got out on parole. Tom goes on to say that prison wasn't that bad: "You eat regular, an' get clean clothes, and there's places to take a bath." He then asks Casy to join him as he heads for his home. Casy agrees, and they walk through the dry countryside and smell the "burned dust ... in the air." They talk about the crop failures. Then Tom describes characteristics about his father, old Tom, such as getting excited during religious meeting even though he isn't especially religious. Also, Tom describes his uncle, Uncle John, as a person with enormous appetites and mood shifts. Tom and Casy arrive at Tom's home to find that it has been deserted.


Steinbeck again contrasts two characters, in this case Tom Joad and Jim Casy. In the process, he develops their characters and presents another major theme of the novel. He also expands the symbol of the land turtle.

Tom has no reservations about disturbing the turtle marching along its determined path. Tom refers to the turtle as a "bulldozer." A bulldozer is a vehicle that plows ahead on a single path, no matter what gets in its way. Steinbeck develops the symbol of the bulldozer and other machines in the next chapter. When the turtle gets a chance, it tries to escape and head back on its determined route. Tom just picks it up and puts it back in his coat. He is therefore a person who is willing to break up the single-minded movement represented by the turtle. This trait foreshadows Tom's willingness to eventually break away from myopic path of the migrant workers as they move from place to place in search of work.

Tom and Casy have differences in their personalities, but they are not the same differences as those between Tom and the truck driver. Tom is an outsider; the driver is an insider. Tom and Casy are both outsiders. Casy was a preacher but felt guilty about having sex with women after he baptized them. As a result, he began to think about sin and the contradiction of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit and wanting to sin at the same time. Casy came to the conclusion that there is no sin. Instead, the Holy Spirit is really the love between people. This viewpoint is very unorthodox, making Casy an outsider. Tom says, "You can't hold no church with idears like that." Although also an outsider, Tom differs from Casy because he doesn't like to think about such major questions. He finds Casy's brooding and doubts to be unimportant. Tom says, "What the hell you want to lead 'em someplace for? Jus' lead 'em."

In this chapter, Steinbeck also introduces the major theme of the human community. According to this concept, each person does not have an individual soul separate from other people. Instead, each individual has a soul that is part of everyone else's soul. This idea relates to the "oversoul," a concept that originated with the transcendental thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to Emerson, the oversoul is a universal spirit that unifies all living things. Steinbeck uses this idea to emphasize why people are more powerful when they unite and form a human community in which the members care for one another. As Casy puts it, "Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of."

Documents for Chapter 4

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Questions for Chapter 4

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