The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 12

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Summary

This "big picture" chapter traces Highway 66-"the migrant road," "the path of flight"-from the dusty lands to the promised land, California. The migrants on their exodus face real danger: "'F we on'y get to California where the oranges grow before this here ol' jug blows up." They stop to make what repairs they can afford to their cars, but the workers at service stations tell them- sounding for all the world like Joe Davis's boy from Chapter 5-"I can't help what happens to you. I got to think what happens to me." They add, "The whole United States . . . ain't big enough. There ain't room enough for you an' me, for your kind an' my kind, for rich and poor all together in one country, for thieves and honest men. For hunger and fat."
Analysis
Such comments resonate with debates about the United States' capacity to welcome all people today. In the context of the novel, they function as the counter-argument to Jim Casy's intuition that all people belong together, that holiness is found when people realize and act upon their connection and interdependence. The critical question is, in short: Can the United States be a holy nation? Is there indeed room for all-and, if not, who must go? A subtext of prophetic judgment runs beneath the surface of this chapter. The disparity between "your kind an' my kind," between "hunger and fat," is so great, and so galling, it cannot be allowed to stand. What will happen when it falls? (Compare the dispossessed people's comments about justice in Chapter 9.)
Steinbeck ends the chapter on a potentially hopeful note: a story-and, the narrator claims, a true one-of a man in a sedan who gave a family of twelve a ride to California, and fed them as well. Reasons for hope in humanity and courage in the face of trial may be few . . . but they do still exist.

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