MIA: Reference: John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath (Abstracts)

Abstracts from

The Grapes of Wrath

"The bank — the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. No, taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size....." "It's not us, it's the bank. The bank isn't like a man. Or an owner with 50,000 acres, he isn't like a man either. That's the monster...."

"And that reminds me," the driver said, "you better get out soon. I'm going through the door-yard after dinner."

"You filled in the well this morning."

"I know. I had to keep the line straight. But I'm going through the dooryard after dinner. Got to keep the line straight. And — well, you know Joe Davis, my old man, so I'll tell you this. I got orders whenever there's a family not moved out — if I have an accident — you know, get too close and cave the house a little — well, I might get a couple of dollars. And my youngest kid never had no shoes yet."

"I built it with my hands. Straightened old nails to put the sheathing on. Rafters are wired to the stringers with bailing wire. It's mine. I built it. You bump it down — I'll be in the window with a rifle. You even come to close and I'll pot you like a rabbit."

"It's not me. There's nothing I can do. I'll lose my job if I don't do it. And look — suppose you kill me? They'll just hang you, but long before your hung there will be another guy on the tractor, and he'll bump the house down. You're not killing the right guy."

"That's so," the tenant said. "Who gave you orders? I'll go after him. He's the one to kill."

"You're wrong. He got his orders from the bank. The bank told them: "Clear those people out or it's your job."

"Well, there's a president of the bank. There's a Board of Directors. I'll fill up the magazine of the rifle and go into the bank."

The driver said: "Fellow was telling me the bank gets orders from the East. The orders were: "Make the land show profit or we'll close you up."

"But where does it stop? Who can we shoot? I don't aim to starve to death before I kill the man that's starving me."

"I don't know. Maybe there's nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn't man at all. Maybe, like you said, the property's doing it. Anyway I told you my orders."

"I got to figure," the tenant said. "We all got to figure. There's some way to stop this. It's not like lightning or earthquakes. We've got a bad thing made by men, and by God that's something we can change." The tenant sat in his doorway, and the driver thundered his engines and started off, tracks falling and curving, harrows combing, and the phalli of the seeder slipping into the ground. Across the dooryard the tractor cut, and the hard, foot-beaten ground was seeded field, and the tractor cut through again; the uncut space was 10 feet wide. And back he came. The iron guard bit into the house corner, crumbled the wall and wrenched the little house from its foundations so that it fell sideways, crushed like a bug. And the driver was goggled and a rubber mask covered his nose and mouth. The tractor cut a straight line on, and the air and the ground vibrated with its thunder. The tenant man stared after it, his rifle in his hand. His wife beside him, and the quiet children behind. And all of them stared after the tractor.

From Chapter 5, pp. 31 to 32

Chapter 14

The Western land, nervous under the beginning change. The Western states, nervous as horses before a thunderstorm. The great owners, nervous, sensing a change, knowing nothing of the nature of the change. The great owners, striking at the immediate thing, the widening government, the growing labor unity; striking at new taxes, at plans; not knowing these things are results, not causes. Results, not causes; results, not causes. The causes lie deep and simply — the causes are hunger in the stomach, multiplied one million times; a hunger in a single soul, hunger for joy and some security, multiplied one million times; muscles and mind aching to grow, to work, to create, multiplied one million times. The last clear definite function of men — muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need — this is man. To build the wall, to build a house, the dam, and in the wall and house and dam to put something of Manself, and to Manself take back something of the wall, the house, the dam; to take heart muscles from the lifting, to take the clear lines and form from conceiving. For man, unlike anything organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments. This you say is man — when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man 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. This you may know when the bombs plummet out of the black planes on the marketplace, when prisoners are stuck like pigs, and the crushed bodies drain filthily in the dust. You may know it in this way. If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. Fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live — for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died. And fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live — for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken. In this you can know — fear the time when manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of man self, in this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.

The Western states, nervous under the beginning change. Texas and Oklahoma, Kansas in Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona, California. A single family moved from the land. Pa borrowed money from the bank, and now the bank wants the land. The land company — that's the bank when it has land — wants tractors, not families on the land. Is a tractor bad? Is the power that turns the long furrows wrong? If this tractor were ours it would be good — not mine, but ours. If our tractor turned the long furrows of our land, it would be good. Not my land, but ours. We could love that tractor then as we have loved this land when it was ours. But this tractor does two things — it turns land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this.

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 my land. I'm alone and I am bewildered. In the night one family camps in a ditch and other family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here's 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. And from his first "we" there grows a still more dangerous thing; "I have a little food" plus "I have none". If from this problem the sum is "we have a little food", the thing is on its way, the movement has direction. Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours. The two-men squatting in a ditch, the little fire, the side-meat stewing in a single pot, the silent, stone-eyed women; behind, the children listening with their souls to words their minds do not understand. The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It's wool. It was my mothers blanket — take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning — from "I" to "we".

If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into "I", and cuts you off forever from the "we".

The Western states are nervous under the beginning change. Need is the stimulus to concept, concept to action. A half-million people moving over the country; one million more restive, ready to move; 10 million more feeling the first nervousness.

And tractors turning the multiple furrows in the vacant land.

Written: June-October, 1938
First Published: April 14, 1939
Publisher: Heron Books
Transcription/Markup: Brian Baggins
Copyleft: Steinbeck Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2002. Material used under "fair use" copyright law.