Summary and Analysis
The gray clouds bring torrents of rain to the land. Eventually, the earth can hold no more water and the streams rise, flowing into fields, which in turn become lakes. The migrant workers helplessly watch the rising water. As the lands flood, their cars are incapacitated, and worst of all, there is no work. The workers are unable to get government relief because they have not lived in the state for a year. Weakened by hunger, many resort to begging and stealing. The pity of the townspeople for the starving workers soon turns to fear. The only person in town who is busy is the coroner.
Soon the rain stops. The men come out and squat down, surveying the land and thinking, while the women watch to see whether this is the time they will finally break. But, where men sit in a group, talking, fear leaves their faces and is replaced by anger. And the women know their men will not break if they are angry.
This final intercalary chapter serves as a partner to the novel's opening chapter by repeating several key motifs. The scrolling description of the weather and its effect on land is virtually the same except, instead of drought, Steinbeck is chronicling the spread of the floods. The circle of squatting men figures prominently as well, a tribute to the indomitability of the life force symbolized by the land turtle in Chapter 3 and illustrated in Rosasharn's gift of life-saving milk in the closing chapter. As in the first chapter, the woman worry that their men will break under the strain of accumulated hardships, but now there is a difference: Where two men squat together, fear turns to anger. As long as they can work together, they will be able to survive.
freshets a sudden overflowing of a stream because of melting snow or heavy rain.
crags steep, rugged rocks that rise above others or project from a rock mass.