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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 7

Summary

In this chapter, the reader is taken to a used car lot on the edge of one of the countless small towns in the Dust Bowl region. On the lot, there are rows and rows of parked cars lined up side by side. Car-lot owners, with rolled up sleeves, and salesmen, with small intent eyes, watch for signs of weakness. If the woman likes the car, the man can easily be coaxed into buying it. Rusty old cars with flat tires are selling very fast. The central attraction, the real bargain of the lot, is never sold. It is just used to attract customers.

When a car is sold, the yard battery is taken out and a dumb cell is put in its place. The used car business is at a high point in terms of sales figures. The owners and the slick salesmen cheat the naive farmfolk by putting in sawdust to muffle the noise in the transmission or changing of gears. The demand for old jalopies is obviously greater than the supply. The tenants are buying the old cars to get to California. Dishonest salesmen and owners cheat them and make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.


Notes

This is again an interchapter sketching out a general situation which the Joads will experience later. The Joads will have to buy a used car in order to get to California. The rapidity of the dialogues and the mind-boggling interchanges between the salesmen and the naive farmers create the sense of confusion that the sharecropper must feel in this unknown territory of hard sell. Ultimately, the croppers are cheated out of their hard-earned savings by paying too much for a rattletrap and unreliable car. In chapter eight, the reader sees the run down truck in Uncle John's yard and immediately connects the experience of bafflement, dread, and confusion of the used car lots with the experience of the Joads as they bargained for the truck. This chapter thus lends a universal perspective to the trials of the Joads.

The sharecroppers who migrate to California will meet many selfish people on their way who will try to cheat them in order to make quick money at their expense. The shrewd salesmen here act without any iota of morality when they sell battered cars to the gullible croppers at extremely high prices. Steinbeck cleverly juxtaposes the agricultural way of life (the farmers) and the mechanical age (the automobile). A naive farmer offers to barter a pair of mules for the partial payment of a car. The salesman quickly exploits the farmer's lack of knowledge about the car business.

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