Chapter 14, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’

Steinbeck reflects on the tractors,on the anonymous entity called the ‘bank’ which has forced the Joads and millions of families to make the great journey from Oklahoma to an equally anonymous, but hopeful California.

There are no characters, no dialogues, no soliloquies, no descriptions. There is a look at the motives of the people, the tractors, the institutions and the nature of humanity. (This is sounding jumbled, here’s what I mean step-wise.)

Families are being ravaged by the dusty and endless roads towards California. There are families of four, five, eight, twelve, loading on trucks and cars; their dogs are dying and their food stocks are diminishing. Yet the people move. When people stop moving, when they do not care to die for something, that is a time to fear.

This you may say of man (sic)–when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man (sic) reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back. This you may say and know it and know it.

When I think of the twelve men who surrounded that young girl in Guwahati, stripped her, grabbed and hurt and abused her, laughing to a rolling camera, I want to believe what Steinbeck says. There have been people who raged on the internet, on television, in the newspapers and perhaps magazines. I hope that rage never stops moving, never stops to care if others care.

Steinbeck talks about what the ‘bank’ and tractors fear. They fear when the dispossessed find a unity among the other scattered people they meet. The women of my land are scattered. Will I find others like me, split into conflicts, doubts, conditionings, hesitations; will we be able to find unity without equalising and de-contextualising our specific conditions, situations, desires?

One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took away my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen.

Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here “I lost my land” is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate–“We lost our land.” The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one… This is the beginning–from “I” to “we”.