"Fella gets use' to a place, it's hard to go," said Casy. "Fella gets use' to a way of thinkin' it's hard to leave." (6.72)
Can you imagine having to leave a place you've lived in your whole entire life? Scratch that. Can you imagine leaving a place you, your parents, and their parents have lived their whole entire lives? The Joads have spent all of their lives cultivating their land, and now they have to start over. Now they have to go to a place they've never even seen before. It would be like a modern day family having to move to the moon.
[car salesman:] "Mules! Hey, Joe, hear this? This guy wants to trade mules. Didn't nobody tell you this is the machine age? They don't use mules for nothing but glue no more." (7.30)
Who knew glue was made out of mules? Interesting fact of the day. Anyway, The Grapes of Wrath gives us a window onto the changing culture of America. The tenant farmers seem to be caught in the traditional ways of going about life, and the landowners and merchants are all caught up in their Scientific American and know about the latest advancements in technology. If you don't have money, how are you supposed to hear about advancements in technology? The migrant families are at a disadvantage for not being tuned into the goings-on of American technological advancements, but they can't afford to be tuned in.
[Ma Joad:]"I never had my house pushed over," she said. "I never had my fambly stuck out on the road. I never had to sell – ever'thing – Here they come now." (8.73)
It seems to us that, when you get to be Ma's age, you shouldn't have to deal with huge roadblocks like being kicked out of your house and forced to move to an entirely new land. Don't you think Ma Joad is amazing? She's totally calm and collected, even though you know it's got to hurt.
[tenant farmers:] But you can't start. Only a baby can start. You and me – why, we're all that's been. The anger of a moment, the thousand pictures, that's us. This land, this red land, is us; and the flood years and the dust years and the drought years are us. We can't start again. (9.10)
So if these families can't start again, if their hearts are irreparably broken, what can they do? What do they do? If the Joads aren't starting over, what are they doing? Are they continuing, going with the flow, or giving up?
[Casy:] "Somepin's happening. I went up an' I looked, an' the houses us all empty, an' the land is empty, an' this whole country is empty." (10.35)
When we think about change, we think about new life and new experiences. We think about advancements and growth. But this kind of change rids a huge section of America of life and makes it kind of dead.
The Western land, nervous under the beginning change. The Western States, nervous as horses before a thunder storm. The great owners, nervous, sensing a change, knowing nothing of the nature of the change. (14.1)
How can land sense change? The idea of change almost has a dangerous quality to it at this moment, and explosive nature. What's more, the change that the Western land and the great owners anticipate does seem to be gradual change, but, rather, change that comes upon them like a sudden thunderstorm. This kind of change happens quickly.
This you may say of 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. (14.1)
When we think about change, we think about it as being something that happens easily and naturally. Here, however, we encounter a kind of change that is messier, more painful, and harder to detect.
[Casy:] "They's gonna come somepin outa all these folks goin' wes' – outa all their farms lef' lonely. They's gonna come a thing that's gonna change the whole country." (16.111)
When Reverend Casy says these words, he almost senses, can almost hear the great migration out of the Dust Bowl and toward California. What does it mean that over 300,000 people left their homes? How does Casy feel about the change that's about to take hold of the country?
[the man swimming in the Colorado River:] "Well, Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-b****. Okie means you're scum." (18.72)
Here we see change in a different light. We've already seen examples of physical change; that is, we've seen a slice of America empty out as families move west, and we've seen families' lifestyles shift completely as they adopt the routines and habits of migrant workers. Here, we see an example of change of meaning: a word used to mean one thing, and now it means something entirely different. The fact that meanings can change so easily scares us a little bit, and we don't know exactly why.