| Study Questions: Chapters 11-20 |
| Study Questions: Chapters 21-30 |
What are the suggestions of the opening descriptions of the dust bowl conditions in Oklahoma? What are the implications of language such as: "The red dawn came, but no day. In the gray sky a red sun appeared, ad im red circle that gave little light, like dusk; and as the day advanced, the dusk slipped back toward darkness ... ." What seems to have happened? Literally? Figuratively? Why? What were the causes of the dust bowl? How does this relate to the prevaliling mode of production and attitudes toward the land at the time? Does Steinbeck also imply causes beyond the physical ones? How does this relate to the title of the novel? Where did Steinbeck get the image of the "grapes of wrath"? What does the image refer to? (see also questions to Ch. 25).
What is the function of the novel's chapter structure and its alternating of perspectives? Why is the novel divided into thirty chapters? Is this number and structure significant? Why?
What is the meaning of the ride Tom gets from a trucker? What about the "No Riders" sign?
What is the significance of the image of the turtle and the oat seed bundle it carries across the road? Why does the truck driver deliberately hit the turtle? (compare this to the scene in Ch. 13 where the Joads's dog is run over by a car, as well as several instances in Ch. 16 where similar encounters occur). What is hinted at by these scenes? What does the highway represent? How about cars and trucks? What is their goal and direction? Is it significant that the turtle is moving in a different direction (southward, crossing the road)? What happens to the turtle and its cargo? What is Steinbeck suggesting?
How does Casy interpret the idea of the 'Holy Spirit'? What is the significance of his comments? Why isn't he a preacher anymore? What is the essence of his beliefs? Is Casy a corrupt ex-preacher or an enlightened person? What did he discover? (see also Ch. 8, etc.)
How did Pa acquire the Joad family's house? What principles or ideas underlie that peculiar form of acquisition? How do those principles relate to other ideas we have read in this class? How do they relate to the principles and ideas which lead the Joad's to lose their home and land?
Who are the "owners of the land"? What are their main characteristics? How do the owners use terms such as "the Bank" and "the Company"? Why do the owners speak "as though the Bank or the Company were a monster"? What is the essence and purpose of their operations? What are the effects of those operations on others (the land tenants in particular)? Why is it said that "When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size"? What feature of capitalism is addressed in those phrases? Why is it said that "The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it"?
What does the cotton do to the land? Why do the farmers plant it? What is the relation of the planting of cotton to war time production? In what sense is the idea of war also a metaphor in this context?
What is the role and effect of technology in the mode of production depicted in the novel? What are the effects of increased productivity (due to technology) on the lives of farmers and laborers? How are tractors characterized? How about their drivers? What is their relationship to the land they work? What is happening to the land? What economic trend do the hired tractor drivers represent? What forms of production seem no longer possible? What seems to be the only alternative?
What are the tenants thoughts on large amounts of property (five, ten thousand acres)? How does the size of the land affect the relations between the owner and the land he owns? How is the size of the land related to economic imperatives and emerging modes of production?
What arguments do the tenants use against the repossession of their lands by the owners? Why do they repeatedly point out that "Grampa took up the land, and he had to kill the Indians and drive them away ... and he killed weeds and snakes"? Is this ironic? Why? What is in effect happening? (think of the imagery of Ch.1, the concept of the "grapes of wrath," and their associations). Are there connections between these ideas and those in John Locke? What are the implications?
What is the significance of the unhung gate and the story of the Jacobs's baby devoured by a pig because a door was left open? What does the unhung gate indicate? What do gates symbolize? What is their purpose (literal and symbolic)? How do such images relate to the concerns of the novel?
Why is there a picture of an Indian girl ("Red Wing") on the wall of the house? What about the sofa pillow (with a picture of an Indian on it) Grampa stole from Albert Rance? What about Albert's claim that "Grampa got Injun blood"?
What is the significance of the figure of Muley Graves who refuses to leave the land? What does his name suggest? Why is he "like a damn ol' graveyard ghos'"? Why does he say, "If they throw me off, I'll come back, an' if they figger I'll be quiet underground, why, I'll take couple-three of the sons-a-bitches along for company"? Is this the only ghost that walks the land? What are ghosts anyway? Is this land haunted?
Why do the owners claim (in Muley's words) that "We can't afford to keep no tenants ... The share a tenant gets is jus' the margin, a profit we can't afford to lose"?
Why does Muley share his food with Tom and Casy? What is his argument justifying his obligation to share?
Why does Steinbeck talk about used car lots and salesmen? Why are the salesmen described as "neat, deadly, small intent eyes watching for weakness"? What is the relationship between the used car lots and the finance company's? How is this situation similar to the case of the land tenants vis-a-vis the land owners?
How is Ma described? What are her main characteristics? What role does she play in the family? Why is she said to have climbed into "a high calm and a superhuman understanding"? What higher knowledge does she embody? Why is she "the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken,a "healer." "a goddess"? What does she represent? Is her figure significant in the context of the economic and social conditions of the time? Is she a symbol of forces within, outside, or against capitalism?
What is the significance of Grandma's "shrill terrible war cry: 'Pu-raise Gawd fur vittory'"?
What is the significance of the figure of Noah? What does his name suggest? (is this significant in the context of the torrential rains and floods of the last chapters of the novel?). What are his main characteristics? What is his attitude toward "things people wanted and needed"? Why is he that way? Is Noah symbolic in some way? Of what? What possibilities (utopian perhaps) does he represent?
What does Casy say in this chapter? What is his understanding of the "holy"? How does he define it? What examples does he use?
In the description of the tenants selling their belongings, why is it said "you're not buying only junk, you're buying junked lives ... buying the arms and spirits that might have saved you ... buying a little girl plaiting the forelocks [of a horse] ... buying years of work, toil in the sun ... a sorrow that can't talk"? What is meant by this? Is there any relation to Marx's concept of the fetishism of commodities?
What is meant by the statement, "We could have saved you, but you cut us down, and soon you will be cut down and there'l be none of us to save you"? Who is the speaker? Is that the only possibility? Who else could be saying that (human and non-human)? What are the identities of the silenced? Who are the speakers of the "sorrow that can't talk"? How far back in time does this sorrow stretch? How far forward? What is meant by, "And some day--the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and there'll be a dead terror from it"? Is this ominous? Why? What does Steinbeck have in mind? Is it only historical (future) or also figurative and symbolic events that he alludes to?
Why is Ma scared of California? Why does she say, "I'm scared of stuff so nice"? What does this suggest? What expectations/images do the Joads have of California? What other stories have they heard? What are the yellow handbills? Why does Ma suggest the handbills couldn't lie?
Why does Casy want to go to California too? What does he want to do there? In his catalogue of things he would like to do, do you perceive certain echoes of the spirit and ideas of a nineteenth-century American poet? Why is this significant? What distinctly American spirit is Steinbeck trying to resurrect through Casy? Why does Steinbeck continue referring to Casy as "the preacher" even though he has technically renounced preaching?
What is the significance of the figure of Rose of Sharon? What does her name suggest? What is her essence and what her main characteristics? Why is it said that "the world was pregnant to her; she thought only in terms of reproduction and of motherhood"? Why is she described as "a balanced, careful, wise creature who smiled shyly but very firmly"? Why is her husband Connie "proud and fearful of Rose of Sharon"? How does her figure relate to the symbolism of the figure of Ma? In general, how do female figures function in Steinbeck's view of the human world? How do they center and give meaning to the human existence? How do the values (human, social, political, economic) which women stand for differ from the values of commerce and capitalism?
After getting only eighteen dollars for all their movable possessions, the Joads are said to be "weary and frightened because they had gone against a system they did not understand and it had beaten them. They knew the team and the wagon were worth much more. They knew the buyer man would get much more, but they didn't know how to do it. Merchandising was a secret to them." What issues are addressed here? What are the Joads confronting? What secret realities elude them? How do the Joads determine the value of things? How does the buyer do it differently? On what does he base his assessments of value? Why can't the Joads understand his approach? Is this a free market where buyers and sellers willingly and freely meet each other to satisfy their own needs? What factors play the determining role in the completion of the transaction? What is the problem with this seemingly fair and free market exchange? What is the system and its values which the Joads cannot understand?
What is the meaning of Ma's assertion, "It ain't kin we? It's will we?," in reference to whether or not to help others? What does this suggest? What is Ma's philosophy of life and human relations? How does this differ from the guiding principles of capitalism? Why is Ma "powerful in the group"?
What is the significance of the slaughter of two pigs before the start of the trip to California?
Why does Ma burn her stationery box? What does it contain? What is the significance of those items? Which ones does she keep? Which does she destroy? Why is it said that the load in the truck prevents Ma from looking back as they are leaving and that "a great weariness was in her eyes"? What is happening here? What processes occur as the Joads board the truck and leave their land and their past behind? What does this suggest about the larger processes taking place in capitalist societies and their effects on humanity? In its abstracting, accounting, and cashing in of all things, what does capitalism effectively destroy? What does it deny and obscure?
Study Questions: Chapters 11-20
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