Discuss the function of Chapter 15: What is implied about the different kinds of people involved?John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This intercalary chapter of The Grapes of Wrath does as many of the other such chapters: it presents a tableau of America in the 1930s.  In Chapter 15, there is an overview of the social situation of the times as people drive for different reasons on Route 66, the main thoroughfare across America at the time.

The poor are in flight, going to an uncertain place and anticipating an uncertain future. They are at the mercy of the kindness of strangers.  When the poor family pulls up at the diner, the man humbly asks for water; then, he begs requests a loaf of bread for which he will pay the usual price of ten cents.  When Mae refuses him, he perseveres, explaining that he cannot afford anything else as his two boys quietly stand and look.  Behind the counter, the owner named Al orders Mae to sell the man the fifteen cent loaf for ten.  Mae then feels some guilt and sympathy, so she gives the boys peppermint for a penny when they really cost five cents each.

The truck drivers are working and stop to socialize and relax.  They cheerily enter and buy coffee and a piece of pie, chatting and flirting harmlessly with Mae, who smiles "with all her might" at them because they leave tips.  After her act of charity towards the two migrant boys, the two men leave fifty cents each for her. 

Thirdly, the tourists, who drive to a place so they can return, enter.  They are the least liked because they complain needlessly.  In an odd similarity to the migrants, however,they, too, worry about the future because their security is threatened by the economic condtions of the country.  However, their lives are static and, therefore, ones of psychological desperation and fear whereas those of the migrants are more of physical desperation, for, unlike the tourists, they know where they are headed.  Yet, at the same time, all the people living in the 1930s hope for a time when they will not be fearful any more.

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The Grapes of Wrath

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