How can I explain the bank as being a symbol in the book?I know in Chapter 5 The Grapes of Wrath that the bank is a symbol, but I can't figure out a way to explain why.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Symbolic of capitalism, the banks represent both a cold force that drives families into poverty as well as the cruel self-interest of the businessmen who reclaim property from those who have given their life-blood to it.

When some of the owners of the land come to tell the tenant men, they drive into "the dooryards" and merely sit in their cars, talking out the windows rather than standing man-to-man with the tenants,

Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold.  And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves.

This force larger than themselves is capitalism, but "some of the owner men were a little proud to be slaves to such cold and powerful masters."  The tenant men squat and draw figures in the dust, and they know that this capitalism is too big for them to fight.  It is a "monster." For, when the tenants argue that the land belongs to them in the respect that they have worked it and been born on it and died on it, the owners apologize and state that the bank is something more than men.

Steinbeck's criticism of laissez-faire capitalism in this intercalary Chapter Five portrays the monster of a sytem exploiting the freedoms granted to it; as a result, the tenants are thrown aside and a tractor does their work.  Cotton will be planted "before the land dies."  Then the land will be sold when it is worthless to unsuspecting buyers in the East "who would like to own a piece of land." 

As the tractors come to knock down the tenants' houses, the men stare after them and think,

There's some way to stop this.  It's not like lightning or earthquakes.  We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change.

Clearly, Chapter Five of the Grapes of Wrath portrays capitalism as the enemy of the poor.  It is a force which only the "wrath" of the tenants can begin to fight.


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The Grapes of Wrath

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