The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Tom and Casy stand on a hill and look down at the Joad house. It shows many signs of being abandoned, such as the house being "pushed off its foundations." Tom and Casy head down to the house and look around, finding a deserted barn shed. Tom worries that his family might be dead.

Casy and Tom sit on the porch and try to figure out what happened. Tom realizes that other farm families in the area must have also left their homes because no one has stolen the lumber from the Joad house. Tom then lets the turtle loose, thinking that keeping it until he finds his family would be too much trouble. Casy sees a figure approaching, which turns out to be a neighbor named Muley Graves. Muley recognizes Tom and Casy and tells them that the Joad family moved to Uncle John's house. They are chopping cotton and saving what they earn to move out west. Muley refuses to leave, even though his family has left. Instead, he stays in the area, eating off the land.

Tom says he's hungry, and Muley dumps out three rabbits from his pouch. Tom skins the rabbits, and Muley and Casy build a fire. As they roast the rabbits, Muley wonders if they think he is "touched" because of the way he lives. Muley explains that he has a strong bond with the land because of the personal things that have happened on it, such as the birth of his son. He expresses his anger at the "sons-a-bitches" who work for the Company.

As the three men devour the rabbits, Tom describes how he was stabbed by a drunken man at a dance and, in self-defense, hit the man with a shovel, killing him. He ruminates about how prison doesn't make sense, because it's supposed to deter a person from committing a crime again but doesn't. Tom says he would commit the crime again if placed in the same situation. Suddenly, Casy gets an inspiration and realizes his new calling is to help people who have been forced off their land and are moving away in search of work. Tom asks Casy to come with him and his folks, and he accepts. The deputy sheriff approaches in a car, and Tom, Casy, and Muley hide in the field. The sheriff sweeps a searchlight around and then leaves. Tom, Casy, and Muley go to a cave to hide and get some sleep.

Analysis

In Chapter 6, Steinbeck takes the process he described in Chapter 5 of people being forced off their land and makes it personal. By doing this, he develops the themes of selfishness versus kindness and meekness versus wrath. The author describes in detail the abandoned Joad farm with cotton growing in the dooryard, the dry well, the broken window, and the sagging walls. He talks about the gate being open, even though his mother always made sure it was shut. He notices a high-buttoned shoe, which his mother loved, left lying on the floor. Casy remembers baptizing people in a nearby ditch.

Steinbeck continues to make the eviction of people off their farms personal with the character of Muley Graves. This man has formed such a strong bond with the land that he refuses to leave, even though his family has left. The author describes him as a stubborn man with "little eyes, half scowling, half petulant." Steinbeck even gives Muley a name that reflects his personality. The name "Muley" suggests the saying "stubborn as a mule." The name "Graves" suggests that the entire area that Muley haunts is now a graveyard. Muley admits, "I'm jus wanderin' aroun' like a damn ol' graveyard ghos'." Muley's explanation of why he hasn't left is painful. His father was gored to death by a bull, and his blood is still in the land. "I put my han' right on that groun' where that blood is still." His son was also born in that house. Muley feels that this land is a part of his life, of who he is. He's furious at the Company and its workers, who forced people off the farms because it's as if they cut the people in half by separating them from their land. Steinbeck, therefore, is making the forced eviction of people as personal as their own flesh and blood.

Steinbeck also contrasts Tom's and Casy's responses to the abandoned house and Muley's explanations. Casy gets inspired to start a new vocation by using his preaching to help the people who have been evicted and are moving west in search of work. Casy, therefore, focuses on the big picture and how he can fit in with this picture and serve people. However, as Muley gives his emotional talk, Tom remains focused on the meal he is about to eat. What seems to concern him most are his immediate needs and not the big picture. After Muley describes the emotional birth of his son, Tom just clears his throat and says that they had better eat their food now. When the sheriff comes, Tom wants to fight him, showing no forethought about what would happen to him if he does. Muley reminds Tom that he would be thrown back in prison. Only then does Tom decide to repress his immediate urge to fight. Tom is worried about his family and what happened to them. But this again is an immediate concern. The family is gone, and he wants to find them. What happens beyond that does not concern him for the time being.

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