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Free Study Guide-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck-Free BookNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 3

Summary

The concrete highway is edged with dry grass; past the grass grow various plants. In the variegated growth, creatures move about-- ants, ant lions, grasshoppers, and a land turtle. The turtle crawls along steadily "turning aside for nothing;" it tenaciously climbs the embankment of the highway with great difficulty and tremendous effort. As the embankment grows steeper, the turtle's efforts become more frantic. He crushes a red ant between his body and legs, and a head of wild oats becomes entangled in his shell. Overcoming all difficulties and numerous obstacles, the turtle finally reaches the top of the embankment and begins to cross the highway. A woman driver swerves her car to avoid hitting the turtle.

Some moments later, a man in a light truck deliberately swerves to run over the turtle. Amazingly, the truck that hits it merely throws the turtle across the road in the direction in which it was already moving. The turtle lands on its back and struggles to flip over. Once it has righted itself, the turtle continues indomitably on its way. The clump of oats falls out of its shell and the turtle accidentally buries it as its body drags soil over the oats on its way.


Notes

In a Steinbeck novel, the nature or the environment plays an important role. Steinbeck, a naturalist, believed that heredity and environment determine the actions of people and that humanity is often a helpless victim of an indifferent universe. Steinbeck's naturalistic presentation demands a detailed documentary style, and The Grapes of Wrath is filled with this style of writing. Steinbeck's celebrated naturalistic symbol of the turtle in this chapter stands for the migrants. The turtle, like the Joads and other migrants, carries its home on its back wherever it travels. It must risk life on the road and face the hostile world of machinery, symbolized in the vehicles. The turtle continues on its way, overcoming all obstacles and difficulties. It is important to note that it carries new life, oat seeds, over to the other side of the highway and plants it there. His efforts ensure a rebirth.

Steinbeck has made it clear through the symbol of the tenacious turtle that the migrants will be successful in establishing a new life in California. Although the migrants will have to undergo many hardships and trials, they will survive in their endeavors. The turtle's determination and tenacity are stressed with detailed and realistic description and foreshadow the determination of the Joads. Chapter 3, then, presents the story of the migrants in microcosm--in the turtle. Naturalistic imagery combines with symbolic overtones to foreshadow the eventual success of the migrants.

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