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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 8

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 8 of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 8 | Summary



Tom and Casy walk down a dusty road in the early morning light toward Uncle John's home. Tom discusses a tragic event that ended Uncle John's marriage. His wife complained of a stomachache, and John said it would pass. However, the illness got worse and she died. Since then, John has been racked by guilt. He often donates his belongings, especially to children, but even so he is miserable.

Tom and Casy arrive at Uncle John's place. Tom realizes that his family is preparing for a long trip. He sneaks up on Pa, who is working on a truck. Pa is a physically strong man, hardened by work, but he is stunned and happy to see his son. Pa tells Tom that the family is going to California. Tom also wants to surprise Ma. Pa goes along with this idea. In the kitchen, when Ma suddenly sees her son standing in the doorway, she is stunned and overjoyed in a controlled way. She is heavy, but not fat, and has a "controlled, kindly" face. Ma is worried about her son. She thinks he might have broken out of prison, but Tom reassures her that he was paroled. Also, she worries that Tom was abused in prison, making him "poisoned mad." Tom says he was mad for a while but then "let stuff run off'n me."

Granma and Grampa hurry from the barn, anxious to greet Tom. Grampa is a cantankerous old man. His wife is devotedly religious and has a combative but affectionate relationship with her husband. Noah, Tom's brother, also greets him. Noah is a quiet, calm young man "who [is] not stupid, but he [is] strange." The family asks Casy to say grace before breakfast. Casy reluctantly agrees, pointing out that he's not a preacher anymore. He says an unusual grace that emphasizes the unity of humans into one thing. The family, including Casy, devours the breakfast. The men go outside and look over the truck. Tom wonders where other members of the family are, including Rose of Sharon, Uncle John, Ruthie, and Winfield. Pa says that Rose of Sharon is married and pregnant and, for the time being, is staying with her husband's folks. Then Tom's brother Al arrives and greets him. He is described as a cocky young man who likes to chase girls.


In Chapter 8, Steinbeck describes key members of the Joad family and shows each character's role within the family system. Pa is physically strong and has features that suggest pride, such as a "forceful chin, a chin thrust out and built out by the stubble." The description implies that Pa is the breadwinner of the family through hard, physical labor over many years. Ma is shown as a strong, sturdy woman with hints of gentleness about her: "Her full face was not soft; it was controlled, kindly." She is a woman who has endured a lot, which has increased her calmness and understanding. She is the heart and soul of the family. Indeed, family members look to her to see if they should be afraid or joyful. In this way, she acts as the family's anchor—a strong presence that stabilizes and unifies the family. Pa is the head of the family, but Ma is the family's center.

Granma and Grampa are both eccentric. Grampa has the personality of a mischievous child who likes to play pranks, tell dirty jokes, and fight with those who anger him. In contrast, his wife is very religious and, because of this, often fights with her husband. One time she even "fired both barrels of a shotgun at her husband." However, despite her disapproval of her husband's wicked ways, she has a strong affection for him. They are treated with respect within the family.

Tom's brother Noah is an odd young man. He keeps to himself and always remains calm. He gives the appearance of being misshapen, even though none of his limbs are deformed. He is, in a way, an outsider within his own family. However, the family seems to accept him for who he is. Al is Tom's randy younger brother who knows something about automobiles. At first, he seems cocky, but then he takes on a humble appearance when he sees Tom. Al looks up to Tom, partly because he killed a man, which has given him an almost legendary reputation.

Everyone in the family looks up to Tom. His father and mother obviously love him deeply. He is like the prodigal son returning home. Despite his crimes—or perhaps because of them—he is looked up to as being special, the guy who dared to kill a man and not submit. Pa and Ma immediately wonder if Tom has broken out of prison. They obviously know about his anger and unwillingness to be pushed around.

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