Illustration of the back a man in a hat and overalls looking towards the farmland

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

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Chapters 1-6 Summary

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Last Updated May 11, 2023.

Chapter 1

After the final light rains ceased in early May, the land started to dry out. To safeguard themselves from the scorching sun, weeds altered their color, and the corn withered and shriveled up. Although a few drops of rain fell in June, it was of no benefit. The dry soil crust was shattered by animal hooves and vehicle wheels, resulting in dust formation. The winds blew the dust until it blended with the atmosphere, darkening the sky.

After the winds calmed down, the dust settled and enveloped the ground like a thick cover. The farmers stood still and observed their damaged corn crops, knocked down by the wind and hidden under the dust. The women observed the men silently, and upon seeing their expressions of anger, they felt encouraged that their spirits were not yet broken by the dust, and there was still hope.

Chapter 2

A man wearing new clothing that is not expensive notices a big truck parked at a roadside cafe. Despite the truck having a sign that says "No Riders," he asks the driver for a ride. He explains that some drivers are good people even if their employers force them to display the sign. The driver agrees to give him a lift and takes him around the corner where they are hidden from view. The hitchhiker introduces himself as Tom Joad and tells the driver that he has been away from home for four years and is now heading back to his father's farm, which is 40 acres in size.

The driver seems amazed that someone who owns only 40 acres has not been forced to leave their land. He appears to be distrustful of Tom and mentions examining fingerprints. Tom informs the driver that he has served four years of a seven-year sentence for causing someone's death and has been released on parole due to his good conduct. He gets off the truck at the intersection that leads to the Joad farm.

Chapter 3

A turtle on land made a challenging climb and eventually made it to the surface of a highway. It began to move slowly across the road. While one driver avoided hitting it, another intentionally swerved to hit the turtle, causing it to be thrown off the highway and land on its shell. Despite struggling for a while, the turtle managed to flip itself back over and continue on its journey, taking its time.

Chapter 4

Tom becomes aware of the dust's thickness and decides to pick up a land turtle that catches his eye, intending to give it to one of the youngsters in his family. While on his way to the farm, he encounters a man who recognizes him as Jim Casy, the preacher who baptized him and was acquainted with his father, Old Tom Joad.

He clarifies that he stopped giving sermons due to his concerns about engaging in sexual activities with female attendees at his religious gatherings. Realizing that this was inappropriate, he took time to reflect on his behavior. He now understands that there are no inherently good or bad deeds, and that what people do in real life is more significant than religious ideals.

Tom begins to depart and Casy inquires about Tom's age. Tom responds by saying that he is unsure as he has been absent from his family for four years and has not received any updates. He proceeds to recount the story of how he had to use a shovel to defend himself against a man who had attacked him with a knife, which led to him killing the attacker. Tom also reveals that he spent four years in prison for the incident.

When Casy inquires about Tom's emotions regarding the killing, Tom explains that he had no choice but to protect himself and that he doesn't regret what he did. Tom also shares some basic information about life in prison, such as the regular meals and daily bathing. He goes on to recount the story of a man who committed a crime just to return to prison because he was hungry.

Casy inquires if he can accompany Tom to speak with Old Tom. Tom agrees and gives him permission to come along. However, upon nearing the Joad house, they discover that nobody is present and there seems to be some issue.

Chapter 5

Representatives of the landowners approached the tenant families to tell them to get off the land. They attributed the banks' pursuit of profits to their decision and clarified that the system of tenant farming was no longer sustainable. They claimed that in order to make the land profitable, it was necessary to cultivate larger, consolidated sections of it with the aid of machines.

The tenants were aware that their small farms wouldn't provide enough food for their families, but they had no other options as they had been living on the land since their grandparents settled there. Unfortunately, the farms were combined and the mortgages were foreclosed, forcing the tenants to leave. Afterwards, a bank or corporation hired a tractor to plow the fields in straight lines, destroying any buildings that obstructed the tractor's path.

When a tractor operator informed a tenant that he needed to demolish the tenant's house, the farmer identified him as a farm boy named Davis and questioned why he was treating his own people this way. The operator explained that he was compelled to do it because his own family was suffering from hunger and lacked essentials, like clothing, and the pay was attractive. The farmer threatened to shoot him, but the boy responded that it would be pointless since another tractor driver would demolish the house before the farmer could be convicted of shooting him.

Chapter 6

Tom and Jim arrive at the Joad house and observe that one corner is damaged, causing the house to become deformed. Upon noticing that the well is dry and the barn is vacant, Tom becomes aware that something is amiss. He comes to the realization that there are no other inhabitants in the vicinity when he observes a cat wandering around undisturbed. He understands that if only the Joad family had relocated, the neighbors would have taken away the house's lumber and other belongings. As a result, he sets free the turtle that he had brought for the children. The turtle promptly begins moving sluggishly in the direction of the southwest.

Tom and Jim spot a figure covered in dust approaching them on the road. Upon recognizing the figure as Muley Graves, Tom and Jim shout out to him. Muley is scared but eventually makes his way over and recognizes Tom. He informs Tom that Old Tom is extremely worried about leaving and being unable to communicate with Tom due to his poor letter writing skills. Muley then proceeds to provide a detailed account of what has happened to the farms in the area.

After much prodding from Tom, Muley finally reveals the location of the Joads. According to Muley, they have relocated to Tom's Uncle John's residence and have been working hard to gather enough money by picking cotton, so they can purchase a car and make the journey to California.

Muley reveals that he was forced off his farm and his family had to move to California. Despite this, he couldn't bear to abandon his father's land, so he has been concealing himself there. He explains that a major corporation purchased the property and replaced the former residents with harvesting machines and temporary workers in order to generate income from the land.

Tom has grown hungry and inquires about food from Muley. Muley, who relies on the natural environment for sustenance, has trapped two rabbits, which he shares with Tom and Jim. Muley believes that it's only fair to share food when one person has it and another does not.

However, when he spots headlights approaching, Muley warns that they must conceal themselves to avoid being accused of trespassing. Tom is reluctant to hide on his own father's land, but he's reminded that he's on probation and can't risk any trouble. Although Muley offers a cave for shelter, Tom declines, preferring to sleep under the stars.

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Chapters 7-11 Summary