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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE STORY

CHAPTER 17

Here's a fact you can depend on: When people get together for a length of time, sooner or later they're going to develop customs, a pattern of behavior, and a set of rules to live by. You can probably observe this in your classes. Doesn't each class have a personality? Can't you expect certain things to happen each time you walk into the room?

The migrant families in The Grapes of Wrath had certain expectations, too, when they pulled into roadside migrant camps each night. Steinbeck tells us about the pattern of life in the camps in this interchapter.

Every night small, temporary societies took shape. The people changed, but not the rules, rights, and customs. Twenty families became one family, drawn together by loneliness and confusion. All came from a place of sadness; all were headed toward a place of hope.


No one told them what they had to do. They did it because their survival depended on it. You can't foul the drinking water, for example. And you can't intrude on others' privacy. You can't flaunt good, rich food in front of neighbors who are famished. Rules were unspoken, but they carried the force of law. If you couldn't follow them, even after a warning, you were beat up or cast out of the society.

After each day's traveling, families unfolded in the camps. Everyone did his or her job: setting up the tent, going for water and firewood, tending the sick, fixing the evening meal, washing up. Then there was time to visit, to discover your neighbors, talk of land and homes left behind and of tomorrow's hopes.

By sunup, the camping place was vacant again, waiting for the arrival of the next night's tenants.  

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