The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 13

Summary

As the car turns westward onto the concrete highway, Al is alert for signs of possible breakdowns. He asks Ma if she is frightened of what lies ahead in California, and she replies that her thinking about the future would be too much. She has to take care of what's in front of her.

At sundown, the family pulls over to camp, and they find themselves by Ivy and Sarah (Sairy) Wilson, a couple from Kansas, stranded with a broken-down car. Sairy is ill, but she and her husband welcome the Joads. Granpa becomes ill and, sheltered in a tent offered by the Wilsons, has a stroke and dies. Although full of grief, the Joads must decide what to do with Granpa's body. The law requires deaths to be reported, but that would cost the family forty dollars. They decide to bury Granpa in the night, although they are unhappy knowing that Granpa would hate anything so stealthy. Still, they need the money to get to California.

Granpa is buried in a quilt borrowed from Sairy, who also offers a blank page from the Wilson's family Bible so that Tom can write a note explaining the circumstances of his death, in case of the body's discovery.

During supper, Ivy Wilson explains how car trouble and Sairy's illness have hampered their progress and depleted their finances. Al and Tom offer to fix their car and propose that the two families travel together, sharing the cars. At first the Wilsons are reluctant, but Ma convinces them it is better to work together.

Analysis

A moment of foreshadowing is found in Ma's conversation with Al when she responds to his concern about bringing Casy along with them to California, "You'll be glad a that preacher 'fore we're through." Their decision to include the preacher into their family will prove fortuitous immediately, when he is called upon to help with Granpa's funeral, and more importantly later in the story, when he gives himself up to a sheriff so that Tom is not jailed.

Granpa's death and the "adoption" of the Wilsons in this chapter reveals a change in the family structure that supports the theme of social unity: The concept of the individual family is being replaced by a larger concept of a world family. Granpa's death is the first loss the family endures, and it is instrumental in drawing the family together as a unit. As a group, the Joads — and now also the Wilsons — must decide what to do with their corporate family body, and in deciding, create their own laws based on what Casy refers to as the "have-to's." This group government dynamic, already witnessed in the family conference in Chapter 10, will be seen in greater scope in the government camp in California. The "adopting" of the Wilsons into the family furthers the concept that communal unity is necessary for survival. Several symbolic gestures unite the two families: Granpa dies in the Wilson's tent, Sairy Wilson's quilt is used to wrap his body, and a page torn from the Wilson's family Bible is buried with him. In deciding to travel together, the two families instinctively fulfill Casy's speculation that it is only by working together that they can survive the trek to California. As Ma puts it, "Each'll help each, an' we'll all git to California."

The occasion of Granpa's death reveals Steinbeck's dissatisfaction with organized religion and illustrates Casy's pragmatism. Pragmatism, which focuses on what "is" as opposed to what "ought to be," is one of the aspects of Steinbeck's social theory. Casy's unconventional blessing over Granpa's body contrasts the impracticality of religion and prayer with the practical nature of the new human-based spirituality: The people who are still living in this world are the ones in most need of faith and support.

Granma is the prime representative of this useless spirituality. She is glad the preacher is along, not because she thinks he will be of help to the family, but because he can say grace in the morning. When Granpa is suffering through his stroke, she is almost beside herself as she demands of Casy, "Pray, goddam it." Granpa dies as Casy haltingly says the Lord's Prayer, knowing it isn't going to make a difference. Prayer is inadequate in dealing with daily life. His attitude is summed up in a comment he later makes to Tom in the Hooverville camp, "I use ta think that'd cut 'er…. Use ta rip off a prayer an' all the troubles'd stick to that prayer like flies on flypapr, an' the prayer'd go a-sailin' off, a-taken' them troubles along. But it don' work no more."

Tom's conversion is not yet imminent, yet he finds in his willingness to humor Casy's speeches the possibility of gaining wisdom. Casy can be seen as symbolic of Christ, and Tom is often considered Casy's disciple. Tom continues to remain proud and independent, but the ex-preacher is pricking his consciousness. He is frustrated with a service station owner because he refuses to listen to Casy, but his innate compassion takes over when he understands the service man will soon be on the road just like them. Tom's intuitive response to the idea that all are in this together helps him realize that the service man's circumstances are similar to their own.

Glossary

touring car an early type of open automobile, often with a folding top, seating five or more passengers.

pauper any person who is extremely poor.

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