The Grapes of Wrath Chapters 1-6 Summary and Analysis
by John Steinbeck

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Chapters 1-6 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Tom Joad: the protagonist, an Oklahoma tenant farmer’s son

Jim Casy: a former preacher who now questions traditional beliefs as he observes human behavior

Muley Graves: a farmer reduced to homeless poverty when he loses his family’s land through foreclosure

Chapter 1
When the last of light rains ended in early May, the land began to dry up. Weeds changed their color to protect themselves from the harsh sun and the corn faded and dried up. The few drops of rain that fell in June gave no help. Animal hooves and vehicle wheels broke the dry dirt crust and formed dust. Winds drove the dust until it mixed with the air and the sky was dark. When the winds subsided, the dust settled and covered the earth like a blanket. Farm men stood silently and looked at the ruined corn blown down by the wind and covered by the dust. Their women watched the silent men, and when they saw anger in the men’s faces they knew there was still hope as long as the dust did not break the spirit of the men.

Chapter 2
A man dressed in new, but cheap, clothes sees a large truck parked at a roadside cafe. Despite the “No Riders” sign on the truck he asks the driver for a ride. He points out that some drivers are “good guys” even if their bosses make them carry the sign. The driver lets him into the truck, around the corner out of sight of the cafe. The hitchhiker says his name is Tom Joad, and having been away from home for four years, is now returning to his father’s 40-acre farm. The driver expresses surprise that someone with only 40 acres has not been driven out yet. The driver is obviously suspicious of Tom and talks about studying fingerprints. Tom tells the driver he has just spent four years of a seven-year sentence for manslaughter in the state prison and been paroled for good behavior. He leaves the truck at the road leading to the Joad farm.

Chapter 3
A land turtle, after a long and difficult climb, finally reached the highway surface and started slowly across. One vehicle swerved to miss it, but the driver of a second vehicle swerved to hit it. The turtle was thrown off the highway and landed on its back. After struggling for some time the turtle righted itself and slowly resumed its journey.

Chapter 4
Tom notices the thickness of the dust. He picks up a land turtle he sees, intending to give it to one of the young children in his family. As he walks toward the farm he meets a man who recognizes him. This is Jim Casy, the preacher who baptized Tom and knew Old Tom Joad, his father. He explains he no longer preaches because he became worried about his having sexual relations with girls who came to his religious meetings. Feeling it was not right, he went off to think about it. He says he now realizes “there ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtues,” and that the actions of people are more important than abstract religious concepts.

Tom starts to leave and Casy asks how Old Tom is. Tom says he does not know because he has been gone for four years and has not heard from the family. He tells Casy about having killed a man who stuck a knife in him by hitting the man with a shovel and about being in prison for the four years. When Casy asks him his feelings about the killing, Tom says he had to defend himself and is not ashamed of his actions. Casy asks about prison life and Tom tells him simply that the prisoners ate regularly and bathed daily. He tells of a man who committed a crime to get sent back to prison because he was hungry.

Casy asks if he can go with him and speak with Old Tom. Tom says he is welcome to do so. As they approach the Joad house, they realize that no one is home and something is wrong.

Chapter 5
The owners of the land, hating what they had to do, came to the tenant families in anger or in grief. Blaming the banks’ demand for profit on their money, they explained the tenant farming system wouldn’t work anymore. The only way the land could be profitable was to farm larger consolidated sections of it...

(The entire section is 1,946 words.)