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The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck
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In chapters 9-12 of The Grapes of Wrath, can you identify 5 figures of speech such as similes, metaphors, or personification, and evaluate them in terms of their effectiveness in helping you understand the text?

Steinbeck uses many similes, metaphors, and instances of personification in chapters nine through twelve to describe the losses and perils of the Joads and other families as they scale back their possessions and undertake the arduous road trip to California. Each device functions to build empathy for the poor and desperate farm families taking enormous risks to better their lives.

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The beginning of chapter nine is an extended metaphor about the pain of the farmers selling off their belongings to the junk man at horrendously low prices. It is mostly farming implements, an array that encompasses hand tools, horses, and wagons. Along with what the junk man buys, the narrator...

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The beginning of chapter nine is an extended metaphor about the pain of the farmers selling off their belongings to the junk man at horrendously low prices. It is mostly farming implements, an array that encompasses hand tools, horses, and wagons. Along with what the junk man buys, the narrator asserts, is the bitterness of the loss of the farm families. A poignant metaphor that Steinbeck uses here to describe the men of the exodus from the Dust Bowl is "to California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness." The metaphor makes clear the suffering of the loss as both a collective and individual tragedy.

Al's description of the Joad family truck in chapter ten employs both personification and simile. He says "she's ornery," as if the truck could choose the human attributes of being ill-tempered or stubborn. He also tells the rest of the family "she'll ride like a bull calf," presumably to assure them of the truck's sturdiness. The family's dependence on the vehicle focuses their attention on its figurative well-being.

In chapter eleven, Steinbeck uses a simile to contrast a farm that is worked by horses versus worked by tractors. The narrator observes "when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. The heat goes out of it like the living heat that leaves a corpse." The desolation in the wake of abandoned farms is deepened with this figure of speech and contrasts with the sounds of life at the end of a day from a horse that plows the field and pulls a wagon.

Chapter twelve presents the caravan of cars moving along Route 66 into California, most of them in extreme disrepair. The narrator uses personification in describing the sight of "cars limping along 66 like wounded things, panting and struggling." The struggle to move families and their meager possessions westward is emphasized and magnified, and pathos is deepened.

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