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Chapter 23 begins with a character sketch of Una Hamilton. Una is described as having “the least humor” but had a love of learning which made her her father’s “greatest joy.” Una leaves home early, however, and marries a “dark man.” She does not live very long. When her body is shipped home, it is clear that she has led a difficult life. Her “nails were to the quick… And her poor, dear feet --.” Una’s death kills something in Samuel and he “became an old man.”
The narrative changes to a discussion of Tom, who it seems “never got started.” He does not possess the ability to care about money, which puzzles his successful brother, Will. But Tom has a kindness that Steinbeck fondly recalls. Tom was the kind of adult who would listen to children and feels badly when he cannot help Mary not be a girl.
The narrative turns to Dessie, who has opened a successful dress-making shop in Salinas. Not only is she good at her craft, but more importantly, she creates a “sanctuary” where women can be themselves – “smelly, wanton, mystic, conceited, truthful, and interested.”
Samuel has not improved and the children meet to decide how to help. They craft a plan wherein their mother and father will be offered visits to each of their homes. Samuel is wise to them, but doesn’t let on. He accepts their offers even though he knows it is a virtual death sentence for the life he has known and loved.
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