The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 9

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 9 of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 9 | Summary



The tenant families, such as the Joads, look through their belongings to find things to sell and get money for the journey west. They take tools, jewelry, carts, and many other possessions to sell. A tenant man bargains with a person as he sells his plow and horses and wagon. After the sale, some tenant men buy a pint and "[drink] it fast to make the impact hard and stunning." They are somber, not happy, as they drink. Then the tenant families look through their remaining possessions and pick out ones they feel they must take with them. It is difficult to choose. The women recall memories associated with various items. The families pile the remaining goods and burn them. The families then load up the cars and drive away.


Steinbeck emphasizes how the process of the tenant families leaving their land involves leaving behind a part of themselves. At first, the men try to ruthlessly go through their possessions and find items that might bring a good price. They might as well "sell the team and the wagon," as there is "no more use" for them. However, they can't help but reflect on the personal meaning of some things, musing about how a bay gelding "lifted his feet when he trotted." The women are more aware of what they are leaving behind. They recall memories connected with many items, such as a book a father liked to read, the pipe he smoked, and a letter from a brother written the day before he died. Leaving the land involves leaving part of who they are: "This land, this red land, is us." This statement relates to the idea of the oversoul, which asserts that all living things are interconnected.

Steinbeck also stresses how this process of forced leaving passes on bitterness. A tenant farmer bargaining with another man as he sells his belongings says, "You're buying bitterness." Elaborating, he tells the man he is "buying a plow to plow your own children under." As he sells his horses, the tenant man remembers how his daughter used to braid the manes and "put little red bows on them." The buyer offers a low price. At first this angers the tenant man, but then he gives in. The tenant man warns that the buyer is obtaining not only objects, but also the bitterness that comes with them, which will cause suffering in the buyer's own home. The tenant man also claims that the buyer is "buying the arms and spirits that might have saved you."

This idea of passing on bitterness or good will relates back to Steinbeck's concept that human beings are part of one big soul of humanity. Therefore, when buyers purchase personal items for a low price, they are not only doing harm to the tenant families, but also to themselves. In contrast, if buyers attempt to help tenant families, they create good.

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