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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 17

Summary

The cars of the migrants scuttle westwards like bugs during the daytime. At night they cluster together seeking shelter and water. Twenty families set up a temporary world, and "the twenty families became one family." They share their lives, their food, and their hopes. As morning dawns, this temporary world is torn down. Within the temporary worlds, codes and laws are established; leaders emerge, and families learn what "rights must be observed." When a rule is broken, there are two possible punishments: a quick murderous fight to settle matters or ostracism.


Notes

This interchapter depicts the new migrant society. The migrants agreeably help each other and fight their loneliness by sharing their experiences of the journey. The small family unit becomes assumed into a larger unit composed of about twenty families. They make their own set of laws, which operate smoothly because everyone understands and accepts them; they also know the penalties for breaking the laws. The establishment of these temporary worlds foreshadows the Weedpatch camp in California, which is managed by the people themselves without the interference of the police.

Peter Lisca sees chapter 17 as the Deuteronomy (i.e. the fifth book of canonical Jewish and Christian Scripture containing Mosaic laws and narrative material) of the novel. He establishes an analogy between the Israelites receiving the new Law in their exodus and the establishment of their own laws by the migrants. This context, according to Lisca, makes the westward journey of the Joads an archetype of mass migration.

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