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Chapter 12 begins Part Two of the epic. In the opening chapter, Steinbeck takes a break from the saga of the Hamiltons and the Trasks to reflect on the changes that have occurred in the nation and its people between the ending of the Civil War and the turn of the century. In a way, it is a return to the sentiments expressed in the opening chapter of the novel: that is, the fallibility of collective memory. Steinbeck channels the voices of the people who look back on the 18th century with nostalgia. Men were men and women were ladies then, the people said. Now, all that has been lost.
On the other hand, many Americans remained scarred by the Mexican War and by the Civil War. Then came “the boom and bust, bankruptcy and depression.” “To hell with that rotten century!” they declare. “Let’s get it over and the door closed shut on it!”
Twice in this short chapter (just two and a half pages) this exclamation occurs: “Oh, but strawberries will never taste so good again and the thighs of women have lost their clutch!” This embodies the feeling that people have in times of change: that is, we may have to accept it, but we don’t have to like it. It reflects not only the innocence of lost youth but also the innocence of the nation after the bitter civil conflict.
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