Fear, Hostility, and Exploitation in Chapter 21 of The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck's intercalary chapters in The Grapes of Wrath have nothing to do with the Joads or other characters of the novel, but help describe the story in different terms. They are similar to poems, offering different viewpoints of the migration, and clarifying parts of the story that the reader might not understand. An excellent example of this use can be seen in chapter 21, where an examination of the attitudes of migrant Okies and the residents of California reveals the changing nature of land ownership among the changing population of California and gives greater meaning to the fierce hostility that the Joads meet in California.
The first section of chapter 21 explores the plight of the Okies, who are simple people forced to leave their homes when industrial change complicates their lives. Steinbeck writes, "Their senses were still sharp to the ridiculousness of the industrial life. And then suddenly the machines pushed them out and they swarmed on the highways." This statement relates the beginning of the novel, with particular emphasis on the death of Grampa and Granma. When industrial farming hits the agrarian midwest, the Joads are forced off their land and driven to migration, deserting the house in which they have lived for so long. Before long, Grampa dies of stroke. His life is tied to the land and cannot keep up with such rapid change, and when he dies Granma is sure to follow. The paragraph continues:
"The movement changed them; the highways, the camps along the road, the fear of hunger and the hunger itself, changed them. The children without dinner changed them, the endless moving changed them. They were mig...
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... and banks. The 'fermenting anger' which Steinbeck describes also relates to the novel's title, as grapes serve as a symbol of the migrants, and the wrath represents their anguish and hardship. The thin line between hunger and anger is broken by the changes in land ownership, and retaliation of the workers is the inevitable result.
Within four pages, Steinbeck greatly clarifies and expands upon his story by examining the different emotions and reactions of his general character groups. He takes two sides of an argument and applies them to a third body rather than pit them against each other. By mastering the use of the intercalary chapter, he is able enrich his story with deeper thought and explore it outside the boundaries of his main characters. In this manner, Steinbeck is able to write a four-page chapter which holds great meaning to a 581-page novel.
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