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The Grapes of Wrath: Chapters 1-5 May 1, 2007

Posted by Michelle in Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

To get your mind moving, I’ve asked a few questions below – or you can talk about what struck you.

What do you think about the idea that the bank is a creature of it’s own, unable to be controlled by men?

What is your initial response to the preacher and his thoughts?



1. bethany3boys - May 1, 2007

I have read this before but it has been a REALLY long time. I don’t remember much of it. I am waiting for my copy…AMAZON tracking should be here soon…but I will catch up quick. Thanks for leading Michelle!!! Looks like you figured the posting thing out.

2. Heather - May 1, 2007

I only had time to read the first chapter today, but I love how the first “character” we meet isn’t a person, but the setting itself. After reading that description of the Dust Bowl, I thought I could almost feel a fine layer of dust on myself!

3. Michelle - May 1, 2007

I totally agree Heather. It was a lovely day outside the day I read Cpt 1 but I felt oppressed by the description of the dust. It reminded me of the fine green dust that settles down every spring here in Hampton Roads. Very powerful writing skills.

4. bethany3boys - May 2, 2007

He is so descriptive…the bugs the turtle. Okay I have read through chapter 4. The preacher…yikes!!! HEE HEE. What a mouth on him and all his stories of fillin’ with ‘er holy sperit and layin’ in the grass with the girls. I can’t imagine him ever preaching!!! But I can sure picture the type he is.

I loved the line toward the end of chapter 1

“The women knew it was all right, and the watching children knew it was all right. Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.”

5. Michelle - May 3, 2007

Oh … hehe. I’d kinda already forgotten that Casey was talking about the women that way. He says some other interesting stuff later on. I think he’s going to develop into an interesting character.

6. Michelle - May 4, 2007

Good quote Bethany. I noted that when the women saw the men were responding in anger, they knew everything would be alright – that they wouldn’t break. Hmmm.

Already we are seeing the idea of corporate responsibility form. The farmers want to blame someone for being kicked off the land, but they are thwarted in their efforts because their is the nebulous corporation called a bank that is to blame. It needs profits.
This still happens, in order for businesses to have financial support, stockholders require ever increasing returns on their investments. It is mans desire for money that gives these institutions the power they hold.
Unlike the story where they are looking their victims in the eyes, we rarely see this in todays global economy. Yet, it still occurs. We need money (or need to save money) and in that vein, man suffers.
pg 47 “but for your three dollars a day fifteen or twenty families can’t eat at all.”

7. Heather - May 7, 2007

From the get-go we catch a glimpse of Steinbeck’s idea that all of life is interwoven. No actions occur in a vacuum – even things which we are unaware of are having an influence on us. (A great example of this is in Chapter 3 when we’re introduced to seed dispersal and the turtle!) Even the structure of the book alludes to this idea, the way he switches back and forth from a micro to a macro view. The same turtle which avoids death in Chapter 3 (didn’t that crack you up that the woman swerved to avoid the turtle and the man swerved to hit it? Steinbeck knows human nature!) is being picked up by Tom in Chapter 4! It’s the whole Circle of Life thing (I know it’s hard to read that and not start singing the song from “The Lion King”!)

The preacher – he is a trip, isn’t he? I think Casy represents a lot of Steinbeck’s views about society. He uses his leaving the ministry and his struggles with his beliefs to introduce us to this idea of a “collective soul” : “ ‘I figgered about the Holy Sperit and the Jesus road. I figgered, ‘Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all me an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit – the human sperit – the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul every’body’s a part of.’ ” p. 24.

I thought Chapter 5 was amazing. First came all the talk about the bank, and how it’s bigger than the men it’s made up of, and it eats profits, and it’s a monster, yet it’s also a cold, heartless machine. It made me think about what just happened recently with Circuit City firing thousands of employees because they made too much money, then turning around and hiring thousands more who would work for less. I’ll be honest, it’s easy for me to read something like that in the paper and then get all fired up for the “little guy,” but when it comes to my money, I want more for less! (Oh, man, isn’t that the Wal-mart slogan? Ugh!) I buy my books at Amazon instead of the little book store down street. What’s Tom Hanks’ line from “You’ve Got Mail?” “It’s not personal; it’s business.” The land owners have found a convenient way to just make it business and not personal, by hiding behind “the Bank.” “Some of them [owner men] were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. All of them were caught in something larger than themselves. Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshiped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling.” P. 31.

The other amazing writing in Chapter 5 is on who really owns the land – the one who owns it from a desk thousands of miles away, never touching it, never smelling it, never walking on it; or the man who handles it and works it with his own sweat and tears, “being born on it, working it, dying on it.” p. 33. There is such great symbolism in the whole section where the tractors are bulldozing the homesteads – ignoring everything – fences, houses, hills, water courses – except their own roadbed. Nothing matters except their plan, and nothing will swerve them from their path. Even the fact that the tractor operator is goggled and muzzled symbolizes how the land companies have blocked out everything but profit, profit, profit. “A twitch at the controls could swerve the cat’, but the driver’s hands could not twitch because the monster that built the tractor, the monster that sent the tractor out, had somehow got into the driver’s hands, into his brain and muscle, had goggled him and muzzled him – goggled his mind, muzzled his speech, goggled his perception, muzzled his protest. He could not see the land as it was, he could not smell the land as it smelled; his feet did not stamp the clods or feel the warmth and power of the earth. He sat in an iron seat and stepped on iron pedals…he did not know or own or trust or beseech the land…the land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses.” p. 35-36

I love his writing! It is just so rich!

8. Michelle - May 7, 2007

Yes, yes, yes. Great symbolism. You picked up on quite a bit more than I did Heather. Thanks for sharing.

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