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The Grapes of Wrath: Chapters 18-19 May 11, 2007

Posted by Michelle in Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
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The Joads are warned for the second time that there is no work in California. If they were going to be serfs and work someone elses land, do you think it would have been better to stay in Oklahoma and do it there? Should they have turned back or continued on? What would you have done?

Why do you think Noah stayed behind at the river? Because he liked the river? Because he was afraid of CA? Was it Pa’s fault? …?

Do you think the Joads were justified in leaving the Wilsons since they left cash and food or do you think they should have stayed? Why?

The local Californian’s had essentially stole the land and imported slaves. They intentionally repress the okies in an effort to protect their abundance and wealth. Do you think this still happens in modern day America? How? (side note: Ha. I actually wrote this question before I saw the NPR story.)

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1. Heather - June 1, 2007

The mention of the millionaire newspaper man who owned a “million acres” in Chapter 18 prompted me to pull out the souvenir book we purchased when we toured Hearst Castle a couple of years ago during our trip down the coast of California. Because the focus in GOW was on the land, with no mention of his extravagant house(s) and grounds, I was curious if he’d already started building those during the time period in which GOW takes place. He started construction in 1920, so he had already done quite a bit of building by the 1930’s. Again, I find it interesting that the characters in the book focus more on the issue of the land than the buildings, which have to be some of the most beautiful and yet sickening displays of excess wealth I’ve ever seen. To these displaced farmers, though, land is more precious than marble statues and imported Italian ceilings. They know just how much can be grown on a simple acre, and how many people can be fed from one small plot of land. To see someone with a million acres had to just blow their minds! I loved the quote that followed:

“If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it ’cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he’s poor in hisself, there ain’t no million acres gonna make him feel rich, an’ maybe he’s disappointed that nothin’ he can do’ll make him feel rich — not rich like Mis’ Wilson was when she give her tent when Grampa died. I ain’t tryin’ to preach no sermon, but I never seen nobody that’s busy as a prairie dog collectin’ stuff that wasn’t disappointed.” p. 207

This same souvenir book referenced the “stealing” of the land, starting with the Spaniards shipping the Native Americans off to the missions to Christianize them. After statehood, however, the “Californios” were unable to hold onto their land, especially after the Act of 1851 which “put the burden of proof upon them as they sought to have their land titles confirmed by the United States government. Litigation could drag on for years, leaving many a landowner the victim of legal fees and usurious interest rates before his grant was patented. Even worse for the old aristocracy was the great drought of 1863-64, which decimated livestock and left the land parched and sterile.”

Isn’t it amazing how quickly history is forgotten or revised?

2. Heather - June 1, 2007

Here’s something else that struck me in Chapter 18:

“Ma went under the tarpaulin and came out with an apronful of potatoes, and she dropped them into the boiling water. ‘I pray God we gonna be let to wash some clothes. We ain’t never been dirty like this. Don’t even wash potatoes ‘fore we boil ’em. I wonder why? Seems like the heart’s took out of us.’ ”

Then a few pages later:

“Well, you and me got sense. Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain’t a hell of a lot better than gorillas.”

How arrogantly they judge those worse off than themselves! They assume the Okies want to be dirty, that they like living like animals, that they have no feelings, and yet just a couple pages before we heard Ma lamenting the fact that they have to be so dirty and that they seem to be losing their heart. This provokes me because I know I can be so quick to judge the poor by their appearance alone, without stopping to think of them as human beings.

3. Heather - June 1, 2007

Casy’s thoughts on sin are interesting. “A sin is somepin you ain’t sure about.” “A man got to do what he got to do.” ” … for anybody else it was a mistake, but if you think it was a sin — then it’s a sin. A fella builds his own sins right up from the groun’ .” p. 224-5 These views, coupled with his idea of “we all have one soul”, make me wonder what kind of religion or thought he’d align with, and are these Steinbeck’s personal views? Was Steinbeck a Transcendentalist like Casy appears to be?

4. Heather - June 1, 2007

Sorry, Michelle, I’m not answering any of your good questions!! 🙂

I think the Joads did what most people would do — once you set out on a journey, it’s really hard to go back. Never leaving is one thing, but going back is another. Knowing how bad the conditions were at home, I think they felt they had no choice but to find out if they could make it somewhere else. Though I’d be fearful of the unknown, I think I’d feel better “doing something” rather than staying put or going back.

5. Michelle - June 2, 2007

As always Heather, these are great observations. You seem to have a knack at picking up many points that I miss – like the dirty thing.

I hadn’t thought about the desire for land being more than material possessions like houses but it makes sense I suppose. They are hungry and worried about where their next meal is going to come from. When it comes down to it, water and food must be more important than shelter… well, at least in CA where they aren’t dealing with inclement weather yet.

6. bethany3boys - June 4, 2007

Heather you do find great points that pass me by. I was wondering about Hearst Castle and if that was around the same time. You made some interesting observations there.

I do think you are right about it being hard to go back. I don’t think I would want to go back even if I knew it was going to be hard….it really wasn’t any better for them at home either. At least they are moving forward and trying something.


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