After early May, no more rain came to the red and gray country of Oklahoma. Soon the earth
crusted and clouds of dust surrounded all moving objects. Midway through June, a few storm
clouds teased the country but dropped very little rain. The wind became stronger and soon the
dust hung in the air like fog. People were forced to tie handkerchiefs over their faces and wear
goggles over their eyes.
When the wind stopped, the men and women came out to survey the damage to the fields.
Everyone, even the children, was subdued. They were waiting for the reaction of the men, to see
whether they would break. The men did not break, but began figuring how to deal with the
ruined corn. The women resumed their housework and the children their play, for they knew as
long as the men were okay, the family would be fine.
Chapter 1 establishes the epic context and tone for the entire novel. This brief, but important,
opening chapter provides a backdrop for the main events of the narrative, describing the event
primarily responsible for spurring the great migration to California during the 1930s. The
destructive force of the Dust Bowl is staggeringly described as a backward life cycle, a
regression from fertile green to a dead and dusty brown. The deterioration of the land that forces
the farmers to huddle and "figger" foreshadows the plight of the Joads: Forced off their land by a
bank looking for profit, they will move west seeking a new livelihood. The beautifully
apocalyptic description of the slow spread of decay throughout the Oklahoma country is strongly
influenced by the King James Bible and sets the brooding and oppressive tone of the novel.
The opening chapter also introduces many of the themes that will be played out throughout the
course of the novel. The suggestion of unity and human dignity in the huddled circle of men will
be developed in the narrative. Likewise, the theme of survival, particularly survival in the face of
environmental destruction, is implied by the refusal of the men to break. This theme, too, will be
examined in detail in the narrative chapters.
Chapter 1 is the first of the so-called intercalary chapters, inserted between the narrative
chapters, which are generalized accounts of the social, economic, and historical situat ions that
shape the events of the novel. These chapters provide significant commentary on the narrative
elements of the novel and establish that this story is not one of an isolated group of individuals.
The Joads' troubles -- dispossessed, stripped of dignity, and struggling to maintain familial unity
-- are not unique to their family, but representative of an entire population of migrating people.
Throughout the novel, the broad events of these intercalary chapters will be brought into sharp,
personalized focus by the specific plight of the Joad family.
perplexity the condition of being perplexed; bewilderment; confusion.
hams a) the backs of the thighs; b) the thighs and buttocks together.
A well-kept transport truck is stopped outside a roadside diner. Tom Joad, freshly paroled from
McAlester Penitentiary, walks down the road and pauses by the diner. Clad in new, cheaply
made clothing, he sits down on the truck's running board to loosen his new shoes. When the
driver walks out to his truck, Tom asks for a ride. The driver refuses at first, citing the NO
RIDERS sign, but Tom suggests that sometimes "a guy'll be a good guy even if some rich
bastard makes him carry a sticker." The driver wants to be a good guy so he agrees to give him a
ride, telling him to crouch down on the running board until they are out of sight of the diner.
Once on the road, the driver immediately begins sizing up his passenger. When he learns that
Tom's father is a cropper on 40 acres, he shares his surprise that they "ain't been tractored out."
Tom becomes irritated at the driver's meddling questions until they reach Tom's road. Getting out
of the truck, he discloses that he has been prison for homicide, sentenced for seven years but out
in four for good behavior.
The second chapter sets the central plot in motion, provides basic background information, and
foreshadows events that will come. The main character of Tom Joad is introduced, and his basic
characteristics are established. As Tom will undergo the greatest personal change in the novel, it
is important to note his individualism and quick temper. His irritation at the nosiness of the truck
driver underscores his independent and somewhat solitary nature. In the course of the
conversation between Tom and the truck driver, many key facts are furnished. For example, the
Joads' current living situation is foreshadowed by the driver's surprised reaction to Tom's
statement that his family are sharecroppers, "They ain't been tractored out yet?" Tom's admission
to the truck driver that he has been in prison reveals an important fact, his position as a parolee,
which will prove critical to his departure at the end of the novel.
The author also lays the groundwork for a basic theme in his work: the constant tension between
those who have and those who have not. This conflict is brought up when Tom forces the truck
driver to decide whose side he is on -- that of the worker or that of the owners. This particular
conflict will be passionately addressed in the intercalary chapters that examine the roots of the
changing social structures present specifically in California.
The setting of the roadside diner will be revisited in Chapter 15. In both chapters, the diner
serves as a point of human convergence: the migrant families, the wealthy travelers in their
sleek, insulated cars, the truck drivers who cover the roads in the service of higher powers, and
the stationary cooks and waitresses all connect in this setting. In the trucker's lament of the
loneliness on the road, we begin to hear minor notes of Steinbeck's message of human unity. It is
for human company, not food, that truckers stop at the highway diners. Later in the novel, we
will see that the migrants are also looking for a human bond at the truck stops -- they are armed
with the simple faith that there might be someone inside willing to help them out.
cat slang for Caterpillar: trademark for a tractor equipped on each side with a continuous roller
belt over cogged wheels, for moving over rough or muddy ground.
chambray a smooth fabric of cotton, made by weaving white or unbleached threads across a
colored warp: used for dresses, shirts, and so on.
hobnailed describing boots or heavy shoes with short, broad-headed nails in the soles.
dogs slang term for feet.
truck skinner a skinner is a mule driver; here refers to a truck driver.
McAlester State Penitentiary near McAlester, Oklahoma.
A land turtle navigates through a dry patch of ground toward a slanted highway embankment full
of oat beards and foxtails. Resolute and unswerving, the turtle fights its way up the slope to the
highway and begins to cross the hot pavement. A speeding car swerves onto the shoulder to
avoid the turtle. Moments later, a truck purposefully clips the shell of the turtle, sending it
spinning to the side of the highway, landing on its back. Eventually, the turtle rights itself, crawls
down the embankment, and continues on its way.
Whenever an entire chapter is devoted to the movement of a seemingly inconsequential creature,
a reader should take note. Chapter 3, with its stunningly realistic depiction of an old turtle
gamely trying to cross the highway, can (and should) be read as symbolic of the Joads and their
struggle. Like the turtle, the Joads are victimized by the hostile environment in which they exist,
yet, also like the turtle, they persist in their journey. This journey takes the turtle southwest, the
same direction that the Joads will be traveling. The author follows the turtle in painstaking detail,
beginning with its arduous climb up the embankment and through its ordeal on the highway,
where it is humanely avoided by one driver, only to be purposefully attacked by a second.
Because of its protective shell, however, this collision with the truck only hastens the turtle to the
other side of the highway, its original destination.
In the course of its travels, the turtle unwittingly carries an oat beard, a symbol of new life, in its
shell. This oat beard is carried to the other side of the highway, where it falls out and is covered
with dirt by the turtle's dragging shell, ready to produce again. With this symbol, Steinbeck
specifically refers to the notion that humanity and its life force will continue to regenerate
regardless of obstacles and setbacks. Steinbeck will revisit this theme of re-birth in Chapter 14
when he claims that humankind is defined by its need to struggle toward goals that grow beyond
work, "having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back."
This concept will also be supported later in the novel with Ma Joad's assertion that "we're the
people that live...we're the people -- we go on."
foxtails plants with cylindrical spikes bearing spikelets interspersed with stiff bristles.
head of wild oats the uppermost part of a plant's foliage.
oat beard a hairy outgrowth on the head of certain grains and grasses.
As the truck returns to the highway, Tom walks down the road toward his family's farm. The hot
sun beats down on him, so he takes off his shoes and wraps them in his coat. Spying the horned
turtle from the previous chapter, he picks it up and wraps it in the coat as well. Continuing down
the road, he sees a man lying under the tree, singing to Jesus. Tom recognizes him as the
preacher, Jim Casy, but Casy is quick to tell him that he has been filled with sinful thoughts and
is no longer a preacher.
Bothered by his need to have sex with a young girl after a meeting, Casy has been wandering
about, trying to figure out how men can be "sinful" when they are full of the Holy Spirit. He has
lost faith in organized religion, finally deciding that what it's really all about is love: not love of
Jesus or God, but love of all men. He has come to the conclusion that no one has an individual
soul, but that everyone's soul is a part of a larger soul that includes all people. With thoughts like
these, he feels he should no longer be a preacher. Tom agrees, and Casy decides to walk to the
Joad farm with Tom. When they reach the Joad place, it is deserted, and Tom realizes that
something is wrong.
Of critical importance to the novel, Chapter 4 provides the first strand of a social philosophy
advocated by Steinbeck: an evocation of the Emersonian concept of the Oversoul. This idea is
delivered by the character of Jim Casy, who is believed to be the carrier of Steinbeck's
philosophical beliefs. When we first meet Casy, we learn that his ideas of religion and
spirituality have changed. Troubled by his own sensuality, and wrestling with the concept of sin
and virtue, he has "gone off on his own to give her a damn good thinkin' about." When he
returns, he has experienced a re-birth, a re-consideration of the Holy Spirit and what it means to
be holy. Casy has decided that sin and virtue are all part of the same thing. The souls of all
humans are only small parts of a larger soul that encompasses everyone -- the Oversoul. All that
really matters is love of all men and all women, and the Holy Spirit is, in fact, the human spirit.
Humans are what Casy loves, not this person he does not know named Jesus. He is turning from
an abstract concept to a more personalized form of religion based on the actions of individuals.
The structure of the novel shows the general plight of the "Okies" by focusing on the specific
problems of a single family. Connections are constantly maintained between the general, or
intercalary, chapters and the narrative chapters. In this case, Tom picks up the turtle from the
previous chapter. This correlation between the abstract and the specific is also characterized by
the contrast between Jim Casy and Tom Joad. Casy deals with the theoretical, concerned with
defining the problems that are facing humanity. Although he has abandoned a religion of general
ideals, it isn't until much later in the novel that he physically supports his beliefs through action.
Tom, on the other hand, is a man of action, although his motivation is primarily self-centered. He
is concerned with himself and his own family, but eventually grows because of his intuitive
response to people in need. In the end, abstract thoughts are not what matter as much as the
actions of individuals.
meetin' an assembly or place of assembly for worship.
prodigal here refers to the wastrel son in biblical scripture who was welcomed back warmly on
his homecoming in repentance (Luke 15:11-32).
Representatives of the company come to tell the tenants that they must get off the land.
Sharecropping is no longer profitable, so the bank has bought the land to farm. The men
representing the company are mean or nice or cold because they are ashamed of what they are
doing, yet none take responsibility for their actions. It is not their fault, but the fault of the Bank,
and the Bank is not a person. The squatters try to bargain, offering to rotate crops or to take a
smaller share, but the bank men are not interested. The tenants argue that the land belongs to
them because their families have lived and died on it, but the bank men only reply, "I'm sorry."
The next day, a tractor arrives, bulldozing whatever is in its path. Disconnected from the land on
which he works, the driver is not a living man, but an extension of the tractor. The tenants
recognize him as the son of a neighbor and question why he would help to put his neighbors out
of their homes. He replies that he has his own family to take care of, and the bank will pay him
three dollars a day, every day. The tenant wants to know whom he should kill to get his land
back, but there is no person he can fight. While the tenant tries to figure out what to do, the
tractor bites into the corner of his house.
In keeping with the nature of the intercalary chapters, the conflict revealed in this chapter is
general, not involving individuals, but groups of people representative of socio-economic
classes. By looking at the larger picture, the widespread effects of the drought and the bank
foreclosures are emphasized: It is not just the Joads, but a great number of families who will be
forced off their land. The abstract conflict between the Bank/owner and the tenant, first
witnessed in the novel's second chapter, begins to develop here. Steinbeck begins to draw a clear
line between the sympathetic farmer who shares stories of his family's connection to the land and
the company, an impersonal conglomerate that is isolated from attack. The generalizations of the
action become specific in the next chapter when the Joads are actually forced off their land.
A second component of Steinbeck's social philosophy, related to the theory of Jeffersonian
agrarianism, is examined in the portrayal of the tenants' connection with the land, as well as the
resultant destruction that occurs when he is torn from it. These men take their dignity and self-
respect from their proximity to earth and its cycles of growth. When this relationship is severed,
they lose their identity and begin to drift, both figuratively and literally. Their trauma is
underscored by the tenant's observation, "Funny thing how it is. If a man owns a little property,
that property is him, it's part of him, and it's like him." This theme will be played out
continuously throughout the novel, most notably in Granpa's death and, later, in the starvation of
the migrants when they are denied a patch of land on which to raise food.
Steinbeck's sharp contrast between the humanness of the farmer and the inhumanness of the
banks and their machines reinforces this notion of the loss that occurs when people are removed
from the life force of land. The Bank is a monster which paradoxically lives off profits, not the
produce of the earth. The tractor, a mechanized symbol of a new way of life, is not alive, but
nonetheless eats homes as it furrows the repossessed farms. Deterred by nothing, the tractor
destroys all human elements in its path. When the driver climbs on the tractor, he becomes linked
to its goal of gaining individual profit. His perception and protest effectively "goggled" and
"muzzled," he refuses to consider the plight of the neighbors he is tractoring off the land. The
tractor driver prioritizes the feeding his own family over the economic tragedy of his fellow
farmers. His contribution to the economic decline of his community is in contrast to Casy's
theory that all must help each other because they are all part of the same being.
tenant a person who farms land owned by another and pays rent in cash or in a share of the
harrows frames with spikes or sharp-edged disks, drawn by a horse or tractor and used for
breaking up and leveling plowed ground, covering seeds, rooting up weeds, and so on.
diesel a type of internal-combustion engine that burns fuel oil.
spam trademark for a kind of canned luncheon meat made from pieces of seasoned pork and
ham pressed into a loaf.
side-meat meat from the side of a pig; specifically, bacon or salt pork.
Tom and Casy see that the Joad house has been pushed off its foundations. They check to see
whether a note has been left for Tom, but only find clear evidence that the house has been
deserted. The house has not been rummaged or looted, an indication that something is wrong
throughout the neighborhood. With the family gone, Tom unwraps the turtle and puts him on the
ground. The turtle continues in the same direction he was going when Tom picked him up.
Tom recognizes his neighbor, Muley Graves, approaching. Muley tells "Tommy" that the family
has been tractored off their land. They are temporarily staying with Uncle John until they can
earn enough money to go to California. Tom and Casy learn that Muley's family has already left
for California, but he was emotionally unable to leave the land where he had grown up. Casy
admonishes Muley for breaking up the family.
Muley shares his supper of cooked rabbit, while telling them how out of touch he's become from
living alone. Listening to Muley helps Casy recognize his calling: he needs to go out on the road
to give comfort to these dispossessed people. Tom, meanwhile, realizes that he will be breaking
his parole if he leaves the state with his family.
An approaching car's headlights illuminate the field, and the three men hide at Muley's warning
that they would now be considered trespassers. Muley takes Tom and Casy to a small cave to
hide for the night, but Tom chooses to sleep outdoors. They plan to move on to Uncle John's in
In Chapter 6, the generalized actions of the previous chapter are made concrete. The young
tractor driver now has a name, Willy Feeley, and just as the tenant's house is knocked off its
foundation at the end of the last chapter, so now the Joad house is found crumpled at the corner.
The threat of the faceless farmer to use his gun is materialized in Muley's news that Granpa
actually shot out a tractor's headlights. Muley Graves' statement, "Place where folks live is them
folks. They ain't whole, out lonely on the road.... They ain't alive no more," not only reiterates
the plea of the tenant in Chapter 5, it points out the moral deterioration that is a parallel result of
Muley physically reinforces Casy's theory of love: All persons are a part of the same spirit, and a
refusal to unite together effectively disassociates an individual from the whole. In contrast to the
betrayal of the tractor driver in the last chapter, who will feed his own children while others go
hungry, Muley finds that he must share his meal. "I ain't got no choice...if a fella's got somepin
to eat an' another fella's hungry -- why, the first fella ain't got no choice." An individual's very
existence is defined by his responsibility (or lack of responsibility) for those with whom he
interacts. Muley intuitively realizes this, although he struggles to express it. Ma will recall this
line of thinking in Chapter 8 with her willingness to feed strangers.
The reappearance of the turtle serves to unify the narrative and intercalary chapters. Released
from the confines of Tom's jacket, it continues in its original southwest direction, the same way
the Joads will travel, thus reinforcing its symbolic nature. Unlike the purposeful turtle, however,
the Joads are forced onto the road, unsure of their destination or their future.
Tom's refusal to hide in the cave at the close of the chapter should be noted as it foreshadows the
events at the end of the novel. At this point in the novel, Tom does not understand the concept of
strength in group unity that Casy is struggling to articulate. He is concerned primarily for
himself. Not until he is forced to hide in a cave does Tom complete his moral conversion.
two-by-four any length of lumber two inches thick and four inches wide when untrimmed.
boil an inflamed, painful, pus-filled swelling on the skin, caused by localized infection.
lifer [slang] a person sentenced to imprisonment for life.
The disadvantaged farmers face even bleaker prospects as they attempt to sell their household
goods and buy vehicles to carry them westward. Fast-talking salesmen, looking to capitalize on
the tenants' desperation and naivete, sell them barely-running jalopies at hugely inflated prices.
The salesmen pour sawdust into the engine to cover up noises, and they disguise balding tires.
The tenants realize they're being taken advantage of, but unfortunately, have no other choice than
to take what is offered.
This intercalary chapter is a staccato monologue delivered by a used car salesman pitching
jalopies to dispossessed croppers. Steinbeck's literary technique is similar to the newsreel style
popularized by his American contemporary, John Dos Passos. The rhythm suggests the
franticness of the situation, a situation in which the salesman has complete control. With the
speed and confidence of his words, the salesman is able to fluster and manipulate the stricken
farmers, and the repetition of his spiel draws attention to the fact that this was an oft-repeated
scenario. Again, this general situation will be specifically realized by the Joads -- they need to
purchase a car for their trek to California and are exploited by sales tactics they don't understand.
jalopy [slang] an old, ramshackle automobile.
lemon [slang] something, especially a manufactured article, that is defective or imperfect.
carrying charges the costs associated with property ownership, as taxes, upkeep, and so on.
Casy and Tom leave for Uncle John's house at daybreak. While walking, Tom describes Uncle
John to Casy, coloring him as a lonely, somewhat touched older man. As Tom and Casy
approach John's property, they see the family preparing for their trip west. Tom surprises Pa as
he works on the truck. Pa's first concern is that "Tommy" has broken out. Assured that he is on
parole, Pa decides they should surprise Ma who is preparing breakfast.
Ma is overjoyed to see Tom, but instantly worried that prison has made him "mean" and full of
hate. He reassures her that it has not, and after searching his eyes, she can see that he is telling
the truth. Tom is angry that they have been forced from their home, but Ma cautions him that he
can't fight the bank alone. She figures that if everybody got mad together, they couldn't be put
down, but everyone seems lost and dazed. Adrift and directionless, they are unable to band
together to fight with a common purpose.
Tom is reunited with more family members at breakfast. Granpa and Granma are excited to see
Tom. Behind them is Noah, the eldest son, who is quiet and slow. At Granma's insistence, Casy
says grace over the meal, although he explains he is no longer a preacher. In his prayer, he says
that holiness is when all people are working together, not focused on their individual desires.
Tom asks after the rest of the family members and learns that his younger brother, Al, is out
chasing girls, and Rose of Sharon, his younger sister, is now married to a neighboring boy,
Connie Rivers. She is in the early stages of her first pregnancy. The two youngest Joads, 10-
year-old Winfield and 12-year-old Ruthie, have gone to Sallisaw with Uncle John to sell a load
of household belongings. Once everything has been sold, they will have about $150 for the trip.
Within a day or two, the family plans to leave for the west.
Ma's character is critical to both Tom's growth and the reader's understanding of the idea of
humanism, the third component of Steinbeck's social philosophy. Her most obvious purpose in
the novel is to provide the physical expression of Jim Casy's ideals. Her actions consistently
emphasize the theory of love and spirit haltingly defined by the preacher, that love and unity
among men is necessary if people are to survive. For Ma, this unity begins with her family. Her
relief at seeing Tom stems primarily from her fear that they would have to leave the state with
the family broken. Ma also unknowingly expresses the pragmatic aspect of the social theory that
Casy is struggling to understand. The preacher yearns to bring a practical spiritual help to those
folks who are suffering, but doesn't know how. He spends his time thinking, wondering how to
express this principle of love, while Ma immediately acts upon it. She is a pragmatist, focusing
not on what might or should be, but how life is.
Although Pa is the "head" of the family, Ma is its backbone: It is her strength and support that
keeps the family functioning. She knows each member's weaknesses and is accepting of them.
Her ability to calm Tom enables him to evolve spiritually. Understanding his reckless temper and
independent nature, she is frightened that in jail he has become "mean." She holds his face and
scans his eyes, searching for truth that may not be expressed in words. This action foreshadows a
later event in the novel in which she must hold Tom's face in the dark in order to "see" him.
For the majority of the novel's action, Ma works desperately to keep her family intact, not
realizing that survival depends on embracing all persons as family. Her love operates on a deeper
level, however, a level that indicates she seems to intuitively understand Casy's message that all
people are holy and deserving of love because they all belong to one greater soul. Ma is always
the first in the family to offer comfort and nourishment to others, just one indication of her
subconscious, unconditional love. The larger concept of this love, that survival will only be
possible through group action is glimpsed only fleetingly in her plea to Tom, "I got to
dreamin'.... If we was all mad the same way, Tommy -- they wouldn't hunt nobody down." She
stops, not comprehending the validity of her dream.
hackles the hairs on a dog's neck and back that bristle, as when the dog is ready to fight.
meerschaum a soft, claylike, heat-resistant mineral used for tobacco pipes.
Mother Hubbard a full loose gown for women.
Purty Boy Floyd infamous Depression-era bank robber; known for his kindness to poor people.
nestin' to place or settle; in or as in a nest.
speaking in tongues ecstatic or apparently ecstatic utterance of usually unintelligible speechlike
sounds, as in a religious assembly, viewed by some as a manifestation of deep religious