The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 7

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 7 of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 7 | Summary



Steinbeck describes how used-car dealers sell cars through the point of view of a head salesman. The salesman wants his sales staff to use techniques such as quoting a high price for a car and then working the price down. Many of the cars are run-down.

The head salesman wants jalopies such as the Apperson because he can buy them cheap and sell them for twice the price. He notices a male customer and says, "Don't know his ass from a hole in the ground. Try him on that Apperson." The head salesman puts a car that is a great bargain on a platform to entice customers in. But he never sells this car. He tells his staff to kick out people who are taking too long to make up their minds. He tries to soften up customers by being friendly at first.

A tenant farmer says he can't pay more than fifty, which is the price quoted by another salesperson. The head salesman says that he'll have to fire that salesperson. He can't sell the car for less than sixty. The tenant says he can trade a pair of mules. The head salesman finds humor in the offer because he has no use for mules. The tenant says he might go to another dealer. The salesman accuses the tenant of wasting his time. The tenant says he has to get a car to go to California. The salesman pretends he's giving the tenant a great deal and offers to buy the mules cheap. He tells the tenant to put down a deposit for the car and pay the rest on installment. The tenant is hesitant, and the salesman uses guilt to close the deal, telling the tenant "I'm givin' you my shirt." The tenant agrees. After the sale, the salesman reveals how he exploited the tenant by selling the car for more than it is worth. The head salesman is so busy selling cars to tenant farmers that he doesn't have time for lunch. He gets tough with a tenant who bought a car and wants to return it. The selling of cars to tenant farmers goes on and on.


In Chapter 7, Steinbeck develops the selfishness theme by stressing how used-car dealers can exploit those who have little money but need a vehicle. The head salesman views customers as objects to be manipulated and cheated. He has his salesmen use various manipulative techniques, such as convincing the woman to buy, knowing that the man will go along. The cars often have problems, such as shot upholstery. The quality of the merchandise makes no difference to the head salesman. In fact, he takes pride in selling shoddy cars to customers for much more than they're worth. He wants more and more jalopies to sell, whether they run or not. This desire is repeated throughout the chapter. All that matters are the profits. He can sell these cars with a large profit margin, which connects him to the Bank monster and its need for more and more profits.

Indeed, the entire used-car dealership can be seen as a type of machine. This machine entices customers by showing a great bargain on display or being friendly to the male customer, offering him a drink on the side. But it is all a part of a predetermined method to sell more and more cars. This method is shown in detail with the talk between the tenant farmer and the head salesman. The salesman knows exactly what buttons to push to get the desired result from the tenant farmer. The salesman has done the routine many times before. In fact, the salesmen themselves are just following prescribed techniques, not caring at all how they might harm the customer. They have become selfish robots, like the tractor driver in Chapter 5. These salespeople probably justify their actions by claiming they need to make a living for their families. They can't worry about how they affect others.

In Chapter 7, Steinbeck also foreshadows how landowners in California will manipulate tenant farmers. This type of situation repeats because the tenant farmers are in a position of disadvantage that can be exploited by businesses to make money. The farmers have little money and need to travel to find work to feed their families. As a result, the used-car dealers take advantage of the farmer's desperation to sell them shoddy merchandise at too high a price. As will be seen later in the novel, landowners in California will also take advantage of the farmer's desperation. The selfishness theme, therefore, is broadly applicable.

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