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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE STORY CHAPTER 12

If you look at an old highway map of the western United States, you'll find Route 66 cutting through Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, bisecting New Mexico and Arizona, and reaching Needles, California. The road then crosses the Mojave Desert and enters the lush valleys of central California. (Parts of Route and 66 fell into disuses and were abandoned in the 1970s and early 80s.)

Steinbeck calls 66 the "road of flight." In the 1930s swarms of migrants rode it out of the Dust Bowl. They came from little no-name places and joined the western tide. The highway became a river of people.

Along its miles, day after day, thousands of dramas were played. Each was unique, but each became part of the great pattern of life on the road.

No driver likes car trouble, especially when he's trying to make good time and he's got a huge cargo aboard. But those old jalopies crowding the highway broke down again and again. Repairs were expensive. A day lost fixing an engine meant a days delay in finding work in California.


Throughout this chapter, Steinbeck lets us hear the conversations of scared and angry men talking inside their cars, at repair shops, and at filling stations. They talk mainly of gaskets and hoses and con-rods, of tires and overheated engines. Then there's talk of California. Will they ever get there? They hear rumors now and then about border patrols at the California state line turning people back. They don't want any more poor people messing up their beautiful state.

Sometimes a car can't be fixed. What do the people do then? Do they walk? Where do they get the courage to keep going? There's one inspiring story circulating among the migrants about a stranded family of twelve being picked up by some rich fellow and being driven and fed all the way to California. Most stories you hear, however, end in despair.  

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