The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Summary

Representatives of the company come to tell the tenants that they must get off the land. Sharecropping is no longer profitable, so the bank has bought the land to farm. The men representing the company are mean or nice or cold because they are ashamed of what they are doing, yet none take responsibility for their actions. It is not their fault, but the fault of the Bank, and the Bank is not a person. The squatters try to bargain, offering to rotate crops or to take a smaller share, but the bank men are not interested. The tenants argue that the land belongs to them because their families have lived and died on it, but the bank men only reply, "I'm sorry."

The next day, a tractor arrives, bulldozing whatever is in its path. Disconnected from the land on which he works, the driver is not a living man, but an extension of the tractor. The tenants recognize him as the son of a neighbor and question why he would help to put his neighbors out of their homes. He replies that he has his own family to take care of, and the bank will pay him three dollars a day, every day. The tenant wants to know whom he should kill to get his land back, but there is no person he can fight. While the tenant tries to figure out what to do, the tractor bites into the corner of his house.

Analysis

In keeping with the nature of the intercalary chapters, the conflict revealed in this chapter is general, not involving individuals, but groups of people representative of socio-economic classes. By looking at the larger picture, the widespread effects of the drought and the bank foreclosures are emphasized: It is not just the Joads, but a great number of families who will be forced off their land. The abstract conflict between the Bank/owner and the tenant, first witnessed in the novel's second chapter, begins to develop here. Steinbeck begins to draw a clear line between the sympathetic farmer who shares stories of his family's connection to the land and the company, an impersonal conglomerate that is isolated from attack. The generalizations of the action become specific in the next chapter when the Joads are actually forced off their land.

A second component of Steinbeck's social philosophy, related to the theory of Jeffersonian agrarianism, is examined in the portrayal of the tenants' connection with the land, as well as the resultant destruction that occurs when he is torn from it. These men take their dignity and self-respect from their proximity to earth and its cycles of growth. When this relationship is severed, they lose their identity and begin to drift, both figuratively and literally. Their trauma is underscored by the tenant's observation, "Funny thing how it is. If a man owns a little property, that property is him, it's part of him, and it's like him." This theme will be played out continuously throughout the novel, most notably in Granpa's death and, later, in the starvation of the migrants when they are denied a patch of land on which to raise food.

Steinbeck's sharp contrast between the humanness of the farmer and the inhumanness of the banks and their machines reinforces this notion of the loss that occurs when people are removed from the life force of land. The Bank is a monster which paradoxically lives off profits, not the produce of the earth. The tractor, a mechanized symbol of a new way of life, is not alive, but nonetheless eats homes as it furrows the repossessed farms. Deterred by nothing, the tractor destroys all human elements in its path. When the driver climbs on the tractor, he becomes linked to its goal of gaining individual profit. His perception and protest effectively "goggled" and "muzzled," he refuses to consider the plight of the neighbors he is tractoring off the land. The tractor driver prioritizes the feeding his own family over the economic tragedy of his fellow farmers. His contribution to the economic decline of his community is in contrast to Casy's theory that all must help each other because they are all part of the same being.

Glossary

tenant a person who farms land owned by another and pays rent in cash or in a share of the crops.

harrows frames with spikes or sharp-edged disks, drawn by a horse or tractor and used for breaking up and leveling plowed ground, covering seeds, rooting up weeds, and so on.

diesel a type of internal-combustion engine that burns fuel oil.

spam trademark for a kind of canned luncheon meat made from pieces of seasoned pork and ham pressed into a loaf.

side-meat meat from the side of a pig; specifically, bacon or salt pork.

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