The tenant people pick through their belongings, deciding what few precious items can be taken on the journey west. That which does not fit must be left behind or sold for a few miserable dollars. Buyers haggle over the tangible evidence of the tenants' existence: farming tools, dishes, furniture. They don't realize that they are acquiring not only "things" but also the tenants' past: their toils, their passions, and their bitterness. The most personal effects cannot be sold and must be burned. With their possessions stripped from them, the farmers are suddenly anxious to go. It's time to leave behind the old life, but not necessarily to begin a new one.
The loss of dignity that results when the tenants are removed from their land is suggested in the thread of pathos visible in this particular chapter and woven throughout both the narrative and intercalary sections of the novel. Their dignity is trampled as they are forced to strip themselves of personal items, which by way of their connection with the land, define them. Shame, desperation, and fear characterize the families as they try to sell their belongings. "Two dollars isn't enough. Can't haul it all back." A similar attitude is taken by Pa in the next chapter as he worries about Ma's anger and disappointment when she learns they were only able to get 18 dollars for all their farm and household items. Taken away from the land that is their home, they are, figuratively speaking, dead.
In Chapter 8, Jim Casy and the Joads begin to grapple with the idea that only by banding together will the downtrodden be able to overcome the hardships that threaten their existence. The generalized characters of this intercalary chapter echo this development. The small man, in strong contrast to the group unity practiced by Ma and advocated by Jim Casy, is repeatedly exploited, hurt, and confused by a commerce system he doesn't understand. Although they realize they are being taken advantage of, they are powerless to help themselves. Cheated by buyers with unfair bargaining tactics, their anger begins to simmer. They are, as of yet, unaware of their collective power. Its promise, however, is emerging, and a warning is delivered, strongly reminiscent of the opening lines of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" that "some day — the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and they'll be a dead terror from it."
gelding a castrated male horse.
premium an additional amount paid or charged.
Pilgrim's Progress a religious allegory by John Bunyan (1678).
St. Louis Fair the World's Fair of 1900 held in St. Louis, Missouri. The World's Fair is an exposition at which arts, crafts, industrial, and agricultural products of various countries of the world are on display.