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In The Grapes of Wrath, the author, John Steinbeck utilizes intercalary chapters to portray the calamity and desolation that wandering farmers faced in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Steinbeck employs chronic symbols, motifs, and specific narrative intervals to connect each intercalary chapter with its neighboring narrative counterparts in order to unify and strengthen the dominant themes of the novel. The intercalary episodes highlight perseverance of the Okies, the greed of capitalists, and the inhumanity of many who belittle the displaced families from Oklahoma. Despite the predicament of the meager farmers, Steinbeck provides his readers with a sense of hope through the respect for survivors and the tough pioneer spirit.
Steinbeck highlights the perseverance of the Okies, in Chapters One and Three, through the turtle’s continuous struggle across the highway and the men’s resilient attitudes following tragedy. The turtle represents all the migrant workers that are evicted from their homes and fall victim to the hostile environment yet continue to persist through their journey, especially the Joads. The turtle in its attempt to make it through life “[boosts] and [drags] his shell along” representing the slow but determined traveling of the workers. In the same way that life becomes more difficult for the Okies, the hills get steeper for the turtle and “more frantic” grow its efforts (15). The Joads’ strong willed determination to make it to California provides a sense of hope that although it will be difficult and some person seeking the enjoyment of mocking one who is worse off than he is, may “[swerve] to hit [them]” their fortitude will result in triumph. In Chapter One the winds come and dust covers the lands demolishing all the crops. The women and children looked to see if the men would “break” knowing that as long as he stood firm “no misfortune was too great to bear.” The men remained relentless revealing the persistent nature of the Okies.
Steinbeck demonstrates the injustice done unto the Okies, in Chapters Five and Seven, through the property owners and used car salesmen. In Chapter Five the owner men came to the Okies land to tell them they had to leave, the land was getting to be poor and they were unable to pay their taxes. The farmers protest, claiming that they have been on this land for generations and that they will have nowhere to go; they are told to go to California where there are many opportunities to make money. These families represent the Joads being kicked off their land by “the bank—the monster [who] has to have profits all the time… When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can’t stay one size” (92). Steinbeck describes the greed and injustice of the “monster” with a tone of complete and utter antipathy revealing the lack of feelings and desensitization towards the suffering the farmers were being subject to.
Later when the farmers choose to stay, the bank sends a man with a tractor to force the Okies off their land. The heartless man controlling the tractor seems to become a part of the machine, destroying any human sensitivity becoming incapable of intercession he does not even “look like a man” but rather he looks like “a robot in the seat” (94). The man blinded by greed chooses to forget his friends and convince himself that there is “no call to worry about anybody’s kids but [one’s] own.” The young man is willing to betray his community for a comfortable life, explaining to the tenant that he must knock down the tenant’s house, “got to keep the lines straight.” Tommy discovers, upon arriving home, that the same thing has happened to his old house. The connection between the two stories transfers a sense of sympathy towards the tenant farmers, and anger towards the inhumanity of the driver, to the story of the Joads.
In chapter seven Steinbeck highlights the injustice done to the Okies by describing the used car salesman and the way he tricked tenant farmers out of excessive amounts of money. The tenant farmers, new to the world of salesmen, don’t have a choice to be without a car and are forced to ignore the fact that they are being sold a run down car for a price that far exceeds the amount it is worth. The chapter is written in a singsong melodic format in order to symbolize the bounce of a car rolling down the road, quick-paced and crude.
Throughout the chapter a car salesman and his assistant utilize the lack of knowledge and desperation of the evacuees to force them into deals by complaining that they’re “taking up [their] time then walking out” on the deal. The disrespect and blasphemy of the salesmen creates more sympathy for the Okies and anger towards those who choose to exploit them. When the Joads go to sell they’re whole lives they are only give eighteen dollars, a very low price compared to what they deserved. The appalling situations that the Okies are found in combined with the malicious manner with which those who are better off treat them causes the readers to feel compassion for the ex-tenants.
The ninth chapter of the book describes a family being forced to leave, and take with them only that which they can carry. Another family comes to buy the house and begins to pick through the once precious belongings of the owners. They sell what they can of the tenant’s past and burn the rest. All the while the tenant’s are crying out “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it.” After watching their belongings go up in flames the Okies no longer have a desire to stay and choose to leave their old life behind and drive on. Being forced to watch their personal belongings burn without a morsel of understanding from the buyers causes the readers to feel sorrow for the Okies.
The Okies encounter many people on their journey to California, some who work to improve life for everyone. The Joads however tend to come across people who are greedy and only seek to better themselves, not caring who they hurt in the process. Steinbeck writes his novel in this way to develop his main point that greed and capitalism is causing the dehumanization in America. He is creating a passion in his readers to stand up against the longing for wealth and ease and start helping others even when it may not be best for you. Steinbeck hopes to awaken humanity in America and fight against the black whole of greed. Americans must heed to his novel and apply it to today’s society as much as they would have in Steinbeck’s period.