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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 14

Summary

The western states nervously anticipate the large-scale changes taking place in the country. The large landowners are unfamiliar with the nature of the change. They strike out at the immediate things, the expansion of the government, the strengthening of the labor unions, new taxes and plans. They fail to realize that these political and social events are simply the results not the causes. The causes are a hunger for joy and security and the human impulse to work and create with muscles and mind. Humanity's undeterred struggle to achieve its goals shows that its spirit is still alive. One should fear the time when humanity will not suffer and die for a concept.

Earlier it was one person, one family driven from the land. But the tenants who migrate meet others of their own kind, and the pathos of their situation strengthens their unity. They would like the tractors if they could own them, but they are afraid of the tractors and the banks, which evicted them. A person used to say, "I lost my land," now that person says, "We lost our land." This is the beginning stage of community, the movement from "I" to "We." There is potential for change and revolution in this unity of the migrants.


Notes

This short interchapter sketches the scenario of a society in transition. It also contains the first note of hope; the sharecroppers could get accustomed to using the tractors if they owned them and could get familiar with mechanized methods of farming. The chapter also shows a fluid migrant society, which is formed for the night and then disperses. Even in this temporary unit, the migrants are always willing to help one another. The selflessness of the migrants is juxtaposed with the egocentricity of the landowners.

The chapter also depicts the poignancy of the migrants' situation, which further unifies them. There is a potential for bringing about change and reordering of the society in this unity. Their unity also suggests how the concern for individual good is being assumed into the concern for universal good.

CHAPTER 15

Summary

Roadside cafes dot Highway 66. These cafes have the characteristic gasoline pumps in front, a screen door, a long bar, stools, and a foot rail. Slot machines and phonographs serve to entertain people. Truck drivers are welcomed warmly in these cafes since they provide business and also attract other customers. The representative waitress, Mae, is middle-aged and takes orders in a soft, low voice. She smiles with all her might for the truck drivers, for they leave generous tips. Sometimes wealthy but discontented couples on vacation stop by. Mae does not like them and calls them "shit heels" because they constantly complain about everything and behave unpleasantly. Truck drivers, on the other hand, are pleasant. Two truck drivers enter Mae and Al's cafe. They order coffee and pie, play a record, and gamble on the slot machine. They discuss the huge numbers of people migrating west on Route 66. They tell of an accident caused by a speeding Cadillac which hit a cropper's truck and killed a child.

Meanwhile, a migrant family stops by for bread and water. Their truck is loaded to the very top with pots and pans. The man asks to buy part of a loaf since he is short on money. Mae says that she is not running a grocery store and cannot sell bread, for they need it for making sandwiches. She says that she could sell him a sandwich instead. The man says that he only has a dime, which must feed the whole family. Mae's husband Al insists that she sell the whole fifteen-cent loaf for ten cents. Mae also sells the man some candy for his sons at less than the usual price. The truck drivers notice this and leave a generous tip. Al keeps a detailed record of the slot machines and notices that number three is ready to pay off. He plays it and wins the jackpot.

Notes

This interchapter depicts a section of the society with which the migrants come into contact. The truck drivers and the roadside cafes that they frequent have also become an integral part of the migrants' lives. The chapter presents, through short rapid scenes, the cafe's view of three kinds of people who come to the cafe: the poverty-stricken migrants, the generous-tipping truck drivers, and the wealthy tourists. There is a sharp distinction between these three groups.

The truck drivers are best liked, for they are repeat customers and leave good tips. The migrants are tolerated, and often elicit sympathy, as seen when Al sells the family bread and candy at discounted prices. (It is again a case of the poor helping the poor.) The tourists are not liked because they always complain. Steinbeck points outs that the truck drivers and the migrants both have a sense of purpose and direction in life; the tourists, however, seem to lead a useless existence with no goal or purpose in life.

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