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What is the growth of development in Chapter 17 of The Grapes of Wrath?  (Starting...

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brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted August 12, 2013 at 6:28 PM via web

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What is the growth of development in Chapter 17 of The Grapes of Wrath

(Starting with the paragraph that begins, "within the evening a strange thing" and ending with the passage, "that was a pretty things to see".)

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:07 PM (Answer #1)

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In Chapter 17, one of the intercalary chapters of his magnum opus, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck depicts the new transient society created by the Great Depression; furthermore, there is something elemental in this description, as well, as the simile of "bugs" is used as the migrant workers "scuttle like bugs to the westward," and at night, they "clustered like bugs near to shelter."

According to critic Peter Lisca, this chapter also is evocative of the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible in which Moses speaks to the Israelites about their historic mission and the promise of future triumph. With the purpose of enforcing among them God's claim to their obedience, loyalty, and love, Moses instructs the Israelites:

"Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you...."

Foreshadowing the Weedpatch camp, in which the migrants themselves establish their own laws, the movement of the families westward in Chapter 17, their union with others. and the establishment of "rights" in the nightly camps is thus likened to the journey of the Israelites their Mosaic law in Biblical symbolism.

The scenes of this chapter in which "social conduct became fixed and rigid" describe the co-operation of people, the oneness of them. The breaking of the rules induces a fight or ostracism, "the worst" of consequences because 

...if one broke the laws his name and face went with him, and he had no place in any world, no matter where created.

Chapter 17, therefore, develops further the trope of the community of man that permeates Steinbeck's narrative. The most salient of the themes, that of Social Committment, is exemplified in this rhetorical chapter in which the migrants establish rules and a sense of belonging with one another.

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