The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 29

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Summary

A torrential rainstorm strikes the land. In this "big picture" chapter, we hear the migrant people wondering, "How long's it likely to go on?"-the same question they have been asking about the "storm" of the Great Depression itself. As Steinbeck describes it, the storm is terrifying enough in the physical destruction it causes; yet "the greatest terror of all" is the grim realization that "[t]hey ain't gonna be no kinda work for three months." Lack of work leads to lack of food, and lack of food leads to illness. And still, the rain continues to fall. As it falls, the migrant people beg, then, when rebuffed, begin to steal. Consequently, law enforcement prepares for a seemingly inevitable confrontation; and "the comfortable people . . . felt pity at first and then distaste, and finally hatred for the migrant people."
Analysis
Steinbeck appears to be drawing on biblical flood imagery in an ironic way. Whereas the biblical flood (see Genesis 6-9) purged the world of evil and unrighteousness, the flood at the end of this novel throws the sin of the world-specifically, 1930s American society-into sharper relief. Yet, like Noah and his family emerging from the Ark, the migrant men emerge from their shelters when the rain finally stops, faced with the prospect of rebuilding life, of rebuilding a world. This last "big picture" chapter ends as the first (Chapter 1) began: with the women watching the men, to see if they have reached their breaking point. But they have not. Anger replaces fear on the men's faces. "[T]he break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath."

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