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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 9

Summary

The tenants sift through their belongings and select the essential items for the journey. They cannot carry all their possessions with them and have to either sell or burn the remainder of their belongings. They receive absurdly low prices for the things that they sell since the buyer knows that they are compelled by circumstances and have no other option. A perfectly good seeder, for instance, costing thirty-eight dollars is sold for only two dollars. A hand plow, which has been rendered useless by the tractor, fetches only fifty cents for the weight of the metal. The tenants caution the buyers that they are not merely buying equipment but also bitterness: "You're not buying only junk, you're buying junked lives. And more--you'll see--you're buying bitterness." The buyers are unaware that they are buying "years of work, toil in the sun," that they are buying "a sorrow that can't talk." The buyers fail to realize that what they consider junk constitutes the very fabric of existence of somebody else's life. The tenants walk back dejectedly to their farms, hands in pockets and heads bent. It will be hard to start a new life in California because they are abandoning their past and their memories.


When everything that can be sold is sold, the women start sorting through the piles of memories and treasured mementos--the dirty rag doll, the Injun bow, grandfather's favorite book, Pilgrim's Progress, a China dog bought by Aunt Sadie from the St. Louis Fair. They know that there is no space in the truck to carry things of sentimental value. There is only enough room for the bare essentials--a few pots to cook and wash in, mattresses, lanterns, clothes, food, stove, and the rifle. They burn the remainder of their possessions in the yards and then frantically drive away in their cars leaving behind them a cloud of dust.

Notes

Steinbeck unifies the interchapters and narrative chapters by linking actions and experience. The universal experience of the sharecroppers is also that of the Joads. Thus, Steinbeck continually reminds us that beyond the plight of the Joads lies the larger problem--the national disaster of the Dust Bowl region.

This interchapter describes the feeling of dispossession and anger felt by the tenants because of their evictions. They must either sell their prized possessions and cherished memories at ridiculous prices or burn them up. The women suffer an emotional shock, and the men want to get on the road. In the previous chapter Pa had told Tom that Uncle John has gone with Ruthie and Winfield to sell the household goods. Now Uncle John's experience is connected to that of the representative croppers. In the next chapter, Pa is afraid to tell Ma about the paltry sum he receives for their belongings.

When the decision to leave is finalized, the Joads also display the characteristic restlessness and eagerness. Thus, the actions and experiences of the general sharecroppers are parallels to the actions and experiences of the Joads. The evicted tenants display sadness, but they are also angry and bitter. Their bitterness poses a threat to society.

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