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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE STORY CHAPTER 14

Simply stated, the point of this interchapter is that "the times, they are a-changin'." That, however, may be the only simple thing about this profound and poetic piece of The Grapes of Wrath.

To understand the upheaval going on in the country, let's take the chapter one step at a time:

  1. The owners of the western lands feel uneasy about changes taking place among the working people. Militant workers are forming labor unions. New taxes and government regulations that aid the working class make the wealthy owners nervous, too. (Remember, we're in the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression and FDR's New Deal.)
  2. The landowners protect themselves because they feel threatened by the changes. (We'll see how they do it in subsequent chapters.)
  3. Regardless of what the landowners do, however, they can't stop the changes, largely because they misunderstand their origin and don't understand the power that brought them into being in the first place. The holders of land are doing battle with the unions and the labor laws. But, says Steinbeck, they're fighting the wrong enemy. The real adversary is the set of conditions that led to the formation of unions and the writing of laws to protect the workers- such things as hunger, the desire for a decent life, and above all, the capacity of men to believe in a cause and, if necessary, to suffer and die for it.
  4. What is this irrepressible cause that drives workers on and on? Steinbeck calls it "Manself." To understand Manself, think of something you've done that made you feel proud. Let's say, for instance, that you got a good grade on an exam. The effort you put into the test was paid back to you in the admiration you received. But beyond the praise, you made a greater gain. You grew in stature as a human being. That is, you did something that only humans can do, thereby making yourself more human. That capacity to grow "beyond your work" is, in Steinbeck's words, Manself.

    You might well ask what Manself has to do with the Joads and Casy and the rest of the migrants, whom we left in a roadside camp somewhere between Oklahoma and California. Surely Manself is not a concept they would put into words. Yet a desire to create a dignified life, fit for humans, drives them on. Would they suffer and die for it? We'll have to bide our time to find out.


  5. In pursuit of a life of dignity, outcast migrant families have discovered a way to make the road less rocky. People form alliances, both formal and informal. We saw the Joads and the Wilsons coalesce in the last chapter. I (singular) became we (plural), and both parties were the better for it.

    Fusion puts an end to loneliness, fear, and suspicion. Sharing a campsite leads to sharing food, and maybe sharing the children's toys. Then there's sharing of stories and problems. That's it! That's the key! Together people solve problems they couldn't begin to tackle alone. They suddenly take control of their lives. They've gained power.

Taken as a whole, then, what messages does this complex chapter convey? To the landowners, it's a warning to watch out for the approaching revolution. To the great mass of people, it's a hymn in praise of solidarity. To us, the readers, it's a hint of things to come in the novel.  

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© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc. Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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