The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 15

Summary

Hamburger stands line Route 66. In the kitchen, the male partner — in this chapter, Alyheru4 — is generally silent and does not acknowledge the diner's patrons. Mae, representative of the woman behind the counter, usually middle-aged and talkative, is the link between the paying public and the business.

Out on the highway, cars and trucks from all parts of the country stream by, all of them traveling west. Inside expensive cars are worried, portly businessmen with languid wives. They are going to California simply to be able to impress the folks back home. When they stop at the diner, they irritate the woman behind the counter by wasting napkins, complaining, and not buying anything.

Two truck drivers stop at the diner. While talking to Mae, they describe an accident in which a truck, laden with mattresses and cookware and kids, was struck by a reckless driver. Meanwhile, another car brimming with household goods pulls off the highway, and a man and his two young boys enter the diner to ask for 10 cents worth of bread. She refuses at first, offering to sell him a sandwich. The man is resilient in his humility, explaining that they have budgeted carefully in order to make it to California and can only afford a dime. Eventually, Al yells at Mae to simply give them the bread. As the man is leaving, he sees the boys eyeing peppermint candy and asks if it is penny candy. Mae replies that it is two for a penny, although it is really nickel candy. The man buys each boy a stick and leaves. The truckers, realizing what Mae has done, pay their bill and each leaves a 50-cent piece although pie and coffee is only 15 cents.

Analysis

Chapter 15 is the most fully realized of the intercalary chapters, becoming somewhat of a microcosm of the book as a whole. With alternating intercalary paragraphs, the chapter shifts between the generalized and the specific, moving from broad descriptions of roadside diners and a wide variety of highway travelers to the specific story of Mae and Al. Recalling the symbolic position of the diner in Chapter 2 and Chapter 13, Mae and Al are both curiously connected and insulated from the world that is rapidly passing on the highway outside their door. Their business is their base, the solidity of which is protection from migratory hazard. At the same time, their survival is entirely dependent on the choice of travelers to stop at their restaurant. Their reputation among the traveling community is critical to their life.

The complicated system of support illustrated by this chapter is an example of the community unity expounded by Casy. Mae, like Tom, will go through something of a mini-education, as she realizes that individual survival is impossible. Acting toward one's fellow human with compassion and respect is necessary to survive. The incident with the man and the loaf of bread illustrates this concept. Mae is, at first, unwilling to sell a portion of the loaf to the migrant man. Shamed into a sale by Al, she seems to see the impoverished, yet proud, man and his children for the first time. Gruffly, but not unkindly, she sells nickel candy to the man two for a penny. Her act of compassion is rewarded by the truck drivers who witness it and leave her a large tip. By sharing with others one can accumulate strength, and in this case, rewards.

The chapter also offers a different perspective of the people moving west. The wealthy travelers, symbolic of the great owners, are unproductive and spoilt. They whiz by on the highway, encapsulated from each other and from the road. The woman, fat and unproductive, with her sagging breasts lying fallow in her lap, contrasts directly with Rosasharn who is filled with unborn life. Even though Rose of Sharon's child will be stillborn, her breasts will provide life-giving milk for another member of the larger world family. The isolation of these individuals signifies the barrenness of life lived separately from one another. We are also given a glimpse of how the migrant families were viewed by others. In the initial response of the diner's hostess to the migrant man, we see through the eyes of those established people who fear the strength and desperation of those on the move.

Glossary

lodge a local chapter of a fraternal organization.

service clubs clubs, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, organized to provide certain services for their members and to promote the community welfare.

syphilis an infectious venereal disease usually transmitted by sexual intercourse or acquired congenitally.

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