The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck Summary and Analysis Chapter 6

Summary

Tom and Casy see that the Joad house has been pushed off its foundations. They check to see whether a note has been left for Tom, but only find clear evidence that the house has been deserted. The house has not been rummaged or looted, an indication that something is wrong throughout the neighborhood. With the family gone, Tom unwraps the turtle and puts him on the ground. The turtle continues in the same direction he was going when Tom picked him up.

Tom recognizes his neighbor, Muley Graves, approaching. Muley tells "Tommy" that the family has been tractored off their land. They are temporarily staying with Uncle John until they can earn enough money to go to California. Tom and Casy learn that Muley's family has already left for California, but he was emotionally unable to leave the land where he had grown up. Casy admonishes Muley for breaking up the family.

Muley shares his supper of cooked rabbit, while telling them how out of touch he's become from living alone. Listening to Muley helps Casy recognize his calling: he needs to go out on the road to give comfort to these dispossessed people. Tom, meanwhile, realizes that he will be breaking his parole if he leaves the state with his family.

An approaching car's headlights illuminate the field, and the three men hide at Muley's warning that they would now be considered trespassers. Muley takes Tom and Casy to a small cave to hide for the night, but Tom chooses to sleep outdoors. They plan to move on to Uncle John's in the morning.

Analysis

In Chapter 6, the generalized actions of the previous chapter are made concrete. The young tractor driver now has a name, Willy Feeley, and just as the tenant's house is knocked off its foundation at the end of the last chapter, so now the Joad house is found crumpled at the corner. The threat of the faceless farmer to use his gun is materialized in Muley's news that Granpa actually shot out a tractor's headlights. Muley Graves' statement, "Place where folks live is them folks. They ain't whole, out lonely on the road.… They ain't alive no more," not only reiterates the plea of the tenant in Chapter 5, it points out the moral deterioration that is a parallel result of economic decline.

Muley physically reinforces Casy's theory of love: All persons are a part of the same spirit, and a refusal to unite together effectively disassociates an individual from the whole. In contrast to the betrayal of the tractor driver in the last chapter, who will feed his own children while others go hungry, Muley finds that he must share his meal. "I ain't got no choice…if a fella's got somepin to eat an' another fella's hungry — why, the first fella ain't got no choice." An individual's very existence is defined by his responsibility (or lack of responsibility) for those with whom he interacts. Muley intuitively realizes this, although he struggles to express it. Ma will recall this line of thinking in Chapter 8 with her willingness to feed strangers.

The reappearance of the turtle serves to unify the narrative and intercalary chapters. Released from the confines of Tom's jacket, it continues in its original southwest direction, the same way the Joads will travel, thus reinforcing its symbolic nature. Unlike the purposeful turtle, however, the Joads are forced onto the road, unsure of their destination or their future.

Tom's refusal to hide in the cave at the close of the chapter should be noted as it foreshadows the events at the end of the novel. At this point in the novel, Tom does not understand the concept of strength in group unity that Casy is struggling to articulate. He is concerned primarily for himself. Not until he is forced to hide in a cave does Tom complete his moral conversion.

Glossary

two-by-four any length of lumber two inches thick and four inches wide when untrimmed.

boil an inflamed, painful, pus-filled swelling on the skin, caused by localized infection.

lifer [slang] a person sentenced to imprisonment for life.

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