The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 23

SummaryThe migrants looked for different ways to entertain themselves and take their minds off their unhappiness. Some would play the harmonica or a more precious guitar or fiddle and people would sing-along or dance to the music. Story-telling was always considered an enjoyable pass-time by both young and old. A number of them would attend religious meetings in the hope of finding comfort. Others would resort to drinking and escape reality temporarily.
In this evocative “big picture” chapter, Steinbeck describes the ways in which “[t]he migrant people [look] humbly for pleasure on the roads”: story-telling, music, even religious meetings. Briefly, but significantly given the novels themes, Steinbeck also includes drink as a means of finding pleasure. Readers cannot help but picture Uncle John as Steinbeck describes an anonymous man drinking to escape his pain. The anonymous, representative mans drunkenness ends in an awareness that “the stars are close and dear and I have joined the brotherhood of the worlds. And everythings holy-everything, even me.” Readers may be drawn to consider the unasked but implicit question: Is drink the only way in which people can arrive at an awareness of their implicit holiness? Jim Casy arrived at the same conclusion, but not through strong drink. Tom and Ma may be, at this point in the book, moving toward that same epiphany through their experiences of anger. How do human beings-human beings, not dehumanized servants of the monster, or “dirty Okies,” or “black-souled” sinners destined for hell-recognize their holiness . . . and what must they do as the holy creatures they are?