What is the significance of the setting in the opening chapters?

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first five chapters are designed to set up the narrative technique Steinbeck will use during the course of the novel. He will give a large picture of masses of people who left the Dust Bowl and relocated in California This begins in the first chapter by describing the harsh dust bowl conditions in Oklahoma. The setting shows the physical problems the families face if they want to stay of the land their families have farmed for years. The "ruined corn" and the "dust covering the earth like a blanket" show how unsuitable the setting has become for human habitation. In the second chapter, Steinbeck begins to tell the personal narrative of one family caught during these terrible conditions. The scene first takes place at a truck stop where Tom tries to find a ride home. He is totally unprepared for what he finds when he gets home. His family has been forced off their property and have moved in with his Uncle John. The third chapter returns to the larger story with the story of a turtle trying to cross the road. Although this chapter may seem out of place, it serves to show how the turtle, who is a symbol for the Joad family and other like them, are able to deal with the harsh setting. Because of their "hard shells", the Joads are able to deal with the harshest environments, even with people like the truck driver, who tries to kill the turtle on the road. Chapter 4 returns to the traditional narrative as Tom sees the horrible dust covering the land and meets Jim Casy, who will play an important role later in the story. Chapter Five, which occurs at another tenant's farm, once again shows how the conditions of the land have changed so that tenant farming in no longer profitable. As one family looks on they are horrified to see their home totally destroyed by a tractor operated by one of their own people. By describing the setting and horrible conditions of the setting, Steinbeck sets up the reasons why the Joads and other families must move and try to settle somewhere else.

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The Grapes of Wrath

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