Study Guide

The Grapes of Wrath Wealth

By John Steinbeck


Chapter 5

The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it. (5.24)

The bank is not a human thing, and it's out of control. If it is not a human thing, then it can't possibly understand humans. All this monster talk is making us feel like we're reading Frankenstein instead of The Grapes of Wrath. The monster has power over the people who built it.

[the tenant farmers:] But if we go, where'll we go? How'll we go? We got no money. (5.31)

Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you food, water, gasoline, a bed, and a roof over your head.

[the tractor driver:] "Three dollars a day. I got damn sick of creeping for my dinner – and not getting it. I got a wife and kids. We got to eat. Three dollars a day. Is that right?" (5.49)

Hard times can make people greedy rather than generous. The tractor driver makes a larger wage by far than any of the tenant families can make working in California. By giving into The Man, the tractor driver saves his family.

If a bank or finance company owned the land, the owner man said, The Bank – or the Company – needs – wants – insists – must have – as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them. (5.3)

Do we ever meet a landowner or a banker or a businessman in this novel? Do you feel like we get a balanced picture of the situation? Is our narrator biased?

And at last the owner men came to the point. The tenant system won't work anymore. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop. We have to do it. We don't like to do it. But the monster's sick. Something's happened to the monster. (5.14)

The monster is hungry for money, just as the tenant farmers are hungry for food. The term "monster" isn't the nicest term or nickname for an economy. We don't know about you, but when we think of monsters, we think of things that want to eat us. In this way the landowners pitch the economy as the enemy of the tenant farmers, as they were two opposing teams.

What do you want us to do? We can't take less share of the crop – we're half starved now. The kids are hungry all the time. We got no clothes, torn an' ragged. If all the neighbors weren't the same, we'd be ashamed to go to meeting. (5.13)

The tenant farmers try to reason to the landowners. There's no money to be had anywhere in the community. Everyone is down and out. If everyone is down and out, it's no one particular family's fault. There's a larger problem that can't be blamed on the individual tenant families

We can't depend on it. The bank – the monster – has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. No, taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size. (5.11)

By attributing blame to a monster, to an inhuman thing, it makes it easier for the landowners to do inhuman things.

Once over the line maybe you can pick cotton in the fall. Maybe you can go on relief. Why don't you go on west to California? There's work there, and it never gets cold. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange. Why there's always some kind of crop to work in. Why don't you go there? (5.32)

The landowners don't promise monetary wealth in California, but they promise a different kind of wealth. They promise that whoever visits will never go hungry, and will never want for anything.

Chapter 10

And now they were weary and frightened because they had gone against a system they did not understand and it had beaten them. They knew the team and the wagon were worth much more. They knew the buyer man would get much more, but they didn't know how to do it. Merchandizing was a secret to them. (10.50)

The migrant families are trapped by the system, and by the economy. They have no choice but to be cheated. If they do not understand this system that governs their lives and decides their fate, are they free people? Do they have free will?

Chapter 14

If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into "I," and cuts you off forever from the "we." (14.4)

We readers are cut off from the people who own things. We never get to meet (in person, face-to-fact) the landowners or the bankers. They exist in their own bubble, a bubble to which we do not have access.