The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 8

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Summary

As Tom and Casy approach Uncle John's place, Tom tells Casy about Uncle John's troubled past. Uncle John was once married. When his young, pregnant wife complained of stomach pains, he refused to send for a doctor. The next day, Uncle John's wife died. Since her death, Uncle John has wrestled with feelings of guilt, and has attempted to atone for his perceived sin by acts of charity-"givin' kids stuff, droppin' a sack of meal on somebody's porch. Gives away about ever'thing he got, an' still he ain't very happy."
As the sun rises red on the horizon, the two men arrive at Uncle John's place. Tom surprises his father, Old Tom, who is working on a Hudson Super-six truck that has been modified to accommodate larger loads. Excited by the prospect that Tom can now go with the family to California, Old Tom arranges to have Tom surprise his mother as well. Old Tom introduces Tom and Casy as two passers-by in search of food. Ma Joad, without seeing them, responds, "Let 'em come . . . . We got a'plenty."
When Ma Joad realizes who has come, she is overjoyed at having Tom at home again. Everyone sits down for breakfast and in her religious fervor (although readers must wonder how much of it she herself understands any more), Granma insists that Casy say grace over the morning meal. Although he initially attempts to beg off, Casy finally offers his still-developing thoughts about the interconnectedness of life (see also Chapter 4): "There was the hills, an' there was me, an' we wasn't separate no more. We was one thing. An' that one thing was holy." Granma offers her pious and vigorous "hallelujahs" throughout the "prayer," even though she seems unaware of the preacher's unorthodox message, and only knows to stop praying when Casy pronounces the conventional "Amen."
After breakfast, Old Tom tells Tom that Tom's sixteen-year-old brother Al is "billygoatin' aroun' the country" in an adolescent storm of hormones. He also tells Tom that Uncle John and Tom's remaining siblings-young Ruthie and Winfield, and Rose of Sharon (called "Rosasharn" throughout the novel), who is now married and expecting a child with a young man named Connie Rivers-are selling most of the family's possessions to try and raise money for the trek to California. The family, even Grampa, has already earned some money by chopping cotton. Al returns, and-impressionable teen that he is, admiring of his brother's notoriety-is the only one disappointed rather than relieved to learn that Tom did not "bust out" of prison, but received parole.
Analysis
The narrator takes this chapter to describe Ma and her central position of strength within the Joad family: "She seemed to know that if she swayed, the family shook; if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired, the family would fall; the family will to function would be gone." Steinbeck thus alerts his readers that understanding Ma Joad will be a key task in understanding the novel as a whole.
In quick succession, we meet praise-bellowing Granma Joad and ornery, cussing Grampa Joad, as well as Noah Joad, the first-born of the family, who "had never been angry in his life." Noah has always seemed "misshapen," even though no physical defect exists. He can perform necessary tasks, but he does so apathetically. "He was a stranger to the world, but he was not lonely."

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