Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2006
Pa Joad: one of many dispossessed “Dust Bowl” farmers who dream of a better life in California
Ma Joad: his strong wife who is devoted to preserving her family
Grampa Joad: the elderly, senile patriarch of the family
Granma Joad: his wife who is a religious fanatic
Noah Joad: the eldest son who moves slowly and says little
Al Joad: the Joad’s teenage son who is good at working on cars
Uncle John: Pa Joad’s brother, a widower
Ruthie and Winfield Joad: Pa and Ma’s youngest children
Rose of Sharon: the Joad’s married and pregnant daughter
Connie: Rose of Sharon’s husband
Because there was more profit and demand for used cars and trucks, salesmen were selling them to the dispossessed tenants as quickly as possible. The tenants knew little about cars and the salesmen were able to cheat them on price, interest rates, and quality. They disguised the poor condition of the vehicles in many ways and ignored complaints. They knew the tenants would be driving the vehicles away from the area anyway, so they would get no complaints.
Muley wakes Tom and Casy before dawn and says he is leaving. Tom and Casy start walking to Uncle John’s house. On the way Tom tells Casy that Uncle John has been rather strange and withdrawn since his wife’s death, which occurred when he ignored her complaints of pain in the night.
As they near the house, Tom sees furniture stacked out in the yard and realizes the family is about to leave. Pa Joad is working on the car and doesn’t recognize Tom at first. When he does, he wants to know if Tom has broken out of prison. Tom tells Pa about being paroled.
Pa says they are about to leave for California and were going to send Tom a letter because Ma was afraid she would never see Tom again. He takes them into the house for breakfast where Ma, busy cooking, pays no attention to Tom or Casy. When she recognizes Tom, she too is concerned that he has broken out of prison. Assured that he has not, she welcomes him warmly and sends Pa to get Grampa and Granma.
She then asks Tom if prison made him mad. She had known “Pretty Boy” Floyd and prison made him “mean mad,” but Tom assures her he is all right. Grampa and Granma race each other from the barn to the house. Noah follows slowly, as he does everything. Grampa and Granma are happy to see Tom. They tell him he should have killed the man but should not have gone to jail for doing it.
At breakfast, Granma insists that Casy, the preacher, say grace. He explains he is not a preacher anymore, but she insists on a prayer. Casy gives a long, rambling recitation of how he went out alone and got to thinking “how we was holy when we was one thing, and mankin’ was holy when it was one thing.”
Pa shows Tom the car that 16-year-old Al, who learned about machinery on a job he had, helped them buy to make the trip. He says Al is not there because he has been “tom-cattin’ hisself to death” for some time. He also tells Tom that Ruthie and Winfield, the two youngest children, have gone with Uncle John to sell some household equipment. Then Al appears and is glad to see Tom, whom he admires and tries to emulate.
The tenant farmers sorted their possessions to find things to sell. They had to sell to get money for the trip and because there was no room on the trucks to take much with them. Buyers pretended they weren’t interested in buying the things at any price, and the tenants had to sell their farm tools and household furnishings for next to nothing. Discouraged, they went home to tell the women how little they got. The women went through their personal keepsakes to see which of them also had to be disposed of. There was no room on the trucks for items of sentimental value either.
Ma and Tom have a talk. Ma wonders if California will be as nice as the handbill describing the need for workers there promises. She says she has less faith than she had. Tom reflects that the only way he endured prison life was to live day by day and not think about the future. He says he has heard that the farm workers are poorly paid, housed, and fed, but Ma still has some confidence in what the handbill says. Following this, Grampa rambles on at length about all the delicious grapes he will eat in California.
Jim Casy asks if he can go along with the Joads. Ma says she is sure he is welcome to, but the men of the family will have to decide. Casy says he will preach no more but just wants to be with people. He says being with people is holy in itself.
Pa is “angry and sad” because he only got 18 dollars for the family’s possessions when the buyer pretended he didn’t want them. Confused, Pa took what he could get although he knew Ma would be disappointed.
During a family council that evening, Al points out the good features of the car he chose and Tom asks about taking Casy along. Pa questions whether there is enough room and food for one more, but Ma reminds him they have never turned anyone down and having only one more won’t make that much difference. They decide to include Casy and have him join the council to help discuss other matters. They decide to slaughter two pigs to eat on the journey and to work all night so they can set off early the next morning. Despite Ma’s protest that it is her job, Casy says he will salt down the pig meat because there is too much work to be done to break it down into “men’s work and women’s work.” So Ma goes through her private possessions, selects a very few, and burns the rest.
Muley Graves comes by to say goodbye and have the Joads tell his family he is all right. The Joads offer to take him with them but as much as he would like to, he just cannot leave the land he knows. Grampa says he is not going either; that he will live like Muley and stay “right where I b’long.” The family decides they can’t leave Grampa behind, but if they force him to go he will hurt himself. They give him a large dose of sleeping medicine and load him into the truck in a sound, drugged sleep and depart. They give Muley the chickens they still have left.
The houses were vacant, and without people the land was vacant. The people who had tended the land were replaced by lifeless machinery and artificial fertilizers. The men who now plowed and fertilized were strangers with no understanding of the relation of men to the land. Empty, the houses ceased to be houses. They were overrun by animals and weeds and were soon torn apart by the severe elements of nature.
Discussion and Analysis
The intercalary chapters in this unit again serve to point out that the plight of the Joads is not unique to them alone but affects a whole society. They set the stage on which the drama of the Joads is played out and foreshadow events in the narrative. Chapters 7 and 9 illustrate the generalized dual problems of buying a vehicle in which to make the journey west and selling personal belongings to finance the trip. They show the uprooted tenant farmers being taken advantage of by shrewd sellers.
In the chapters immediately following, the Joads face these problems. Chapter 11 is a commentary on the dehumanization of the land which the tenants, now migrants, are leaving behind. The death of the houses and land, now separated from the people who cared for them, foreshadows the death of Grampa who is separated from his land.
We now meet Ma Joad, the strength and cohesive force of the Joad family. It is she who will live out Jim Casy’s philosophy that all humanity is part of one thing. She will put his ideas of helping others into practice. Continuously she will think of humanity as one big family and help all those in need within her ability to do so. She is overjoyed when Tom arrives because, despite her fears she would never see him again, her family is now together around her and whole.
But Ma and Pa express an anxiety that will follow and concern Tom throughout the story. Their first reaction upon seeing him is that he broke out of jail and could be a problem for the family. As Muley Graves pointed out earlier, Tom’s ability to act and help the family will be restricted because of his past and the terms of his parole.
In this unit two things happen to Tom. He moves from being a self-centered and self-protective individual to membership in a family unit. He is on his way to rejoining and uniting with all humanity. He is bound closer with Jim Casy, who also joins the family. Casy will have a profound effect on the development of Tom’s character as the story progresses.
Here too is more development of Jim Casy’s character. He wants to rejoin people after his long wandering. Symbolically he gives up his lone wandering and enters into the Joad family and participates in its decisions, a step toward being with and helping other people. Like Tom, he too is moving toward a participation in all mankind. Here he expresses the idea that everyone must help each other and breaks down a philosophical barrier when he tells Ma there is too much work to be done to divide it into “men’s and women’s work.”
Casy is Steinbeck’s voice for questioning old theologies and seeking a new and better world less bound by them. In this novel, which is essentially a Biblical allegory, Casy is a Christ-like figure, seeking the salvation of the downtrodden. He is also akin to Moses in leading them out of misery into a promised land. The migration of the “Dust Bowl” refugees is in great part an allegory of the Exodus of the Israelites from a land filled with pestilence to a land of milk and honey.
Grampa is the first to mention the “grapes” which symbolize the fertility of the new land and the expectation of a better, richer life that will grow and flourish in its soil. But Grampa is the first to perish in the quest for this good life. He is torn from the land he understands and which was his life force. As the land he left dies behind him, tended by men who do not love and understand it as he did, he too is dying as a result of being parted from it. As the story progresses, the other migrants will not find the bountiful life they seek and the only fruit that will grow in this new land is their wrath.
Ma expresses the first doubts about how promising the new land is, but maintains her confidence in the opportunity for work described in the handbills distributed among the tenants. Tom replies that he has heard things there are less desirable than advertised. This will later be heard from people they meet on the road who are returning dejectedly from California.
Deciding to take life day by day, the Joads set off with hope. The author of a recent nonfiction book about the migration has opined that the people involved were driven not so much by the pull of the promise offered by California as they were pushed by the desperate conditions behind them.
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