[used car salesman:] "Goin' to California? Here's jus' what you need. Looks shot, but they's thousan's of miles in her." (7.53)
Many people, like the used car salesmen, make their money by deceiving unknowing families.
[a tire salesman on Highway 66:] "Well, try to get some freedom to do. Fella says you're jus' as free as you got jack to pay for it." (12.18)
The angry man at the campsite argues that even your freedom doesn't count for much in California. Even your role as a citizen in America will be questioned, disregarded, and reinterpreted.
[used car salesman:] "That rattle – that's tappets. Don't hurt a bit. Tappets can rattle till Jesus comes again without no harm. But that thudding as the car moves along – can't hear that – just kind of feel it. Maybe oil isn't gettin' someplace. Maybe a bearing's startin' to go." (12.6)
A car may look solid and sturdy, it may look brand new, but the families cannot be fooled by appearances. The families have to listen, have to feel their cars in order to understand them. The physical appearance of the car will tell them little about how the car itself functions.
[a tire salesman on Highway 66:] "That's what you think! Ever hear of the border patrol on the California line? Police from Los Angeles – stopped you bastards, turned you back. Says, if you can't buy no real estate we don't want you. Says, got a driver's license? Le's see it. Tore it up. Says you can't come in without no driver's license." (12.17)
For the first time, the Joads concept of what they will find in California is rattled. Their dream is met by a harsh reality.
Ma suddenly seemed to know it was all a dream. She turned her head forward again and her body relaxed, but the little smile stayed around her eyes. "I wonder how Granma feels today," she said. (16.14)
How does Ma suddenly seem to know it was all a dream? What about her conversation with Rose of Sharon (in which Rose of Sharon talks about how delicious her life will be in California) triggered this realization, and why doesn't Ma tell Rose of Sharon not to have such high hopes?
Rose of Sharon Rivers
[Rose of Sharon:] "Maybe right at first while Connie's studyin' at home it won't be so easy, but – well, when the baby comes, maybe he'll be all done studyin' an' we'll have a place, little bit of a place." (16.11)
Rose of Sharon is concerned with the appearance of what she hopes her life will be in California. Did the yellow pamphlets promise houses and money enough to go to the movies? If they did not promise all of these things, were the Joads and other families really so deceived? Perhaps these families deceived themselves.
"I tried to tell you folks," he said. "Somepin it took me a year to find out. Took two kids dead, took my wife dead to show me. But I can't tell you. I should of knew that. Nobody couldn't tell me. But I can't tell you. I should of knew that. Nobody couldn't tell me, neither. I can't tell ya about them little fellas layin' in the tent with their bellies puffed out an' jus' skin on their bones, an' shiverin' an' whinin' like pups, an' me runnin' aroun' tryin' to get work – not for money, not for wages!" he shouted. (16.354)
If the Joads knew how horrible life would be in California, would they still go? The angry man at the campsite demonstrates how determined families are to find a new life. Even when presented with gruesome tales, they have no choice but to continue on their journey westward. There is no alternative.
[the man swimming in the Colorado River:] "Sure, nice to look at, but you can't have none of it. They's a grove of yella oranges – an' a guy with a gun that got the right to kill you if you touch one." (18.77)
So California is the land of plenty. No deception there. But it is plenty that you can't have. Who creates the myth of California, the paradise? Do the landowners create this myth, or do the migrant worker families create this myth?
[Casy:] "If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he's poor in hisself, there ain't no million acres gonna make him feel rich." (18.90)
In the world of this novel, it seems like the prettier the land or idea, the more corrupt the land or idea is. Beautiful appearances hide horrible reality.
All California quickens with produce, and the fruit grows heavy, and the limbs bend gradually under the fruit so that little crutches must be placed under them to support the weight. (25.2)
California is deceptively beautiful and rich. There is food all around the starving masses, but no one can eat or touch any of it.