The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 5

SummaryIn this “big picture” chapter, spokesmen for banks give tenants the news that they must leave. Steinbeck repeatedly emphasizes that “all of them”-spokesmen and the tenants they must evict-“were caught in something larger than themselves.” Tractors “can take the place of twelve or fourteen families,” meaning land owners can pay fewer people for the same amount of work, or even more, increasing their profits. When the tenants appeal to the bank mens humanity-protesting that they, the tenants, cannot leave the land, that too many of their families memories and too much of their blood has been spilt fighting for the land-the spokesmen can only reply: “The bank is something more than men, I tell you. Its the monster. Men made it, but they cant control it.”
On one plot of land-representing all the land-displaced tenants recognize a driver as “Joe Daviss boy.” They are unable to fathom how Joe Daviss boy could do such work “against his own people.” Joe Daviss boys price? “Three dollars a day . . . . I got a wife and kids. We got to eat.” All Joe Daviss boy can think of his own family; he cannot think of the larger, human family of which he is a part. Steinbeck does not present Joe Daviss boy as a villain (although neither does he present him as sympathetically as he presents the displaced farmers); Joe Daviss boy, too, is caught up in changing, uncertain times. He, too, is at the mercy of the monster: “Big shots wont give you three dollars a day if you worry about anything but your three dollars a day.” While the tenant with whom Joe Daviss boy is talking ultimately seems to acknowledge the structural evil in which all people are caught, he does not adopt the fatalistic attitude of Joe Daviss boy, or of the bank spokesmen. “We all got to figure. Theres some way to stop this . . . . Weve got a bad thing made by men, and by God thats something we can change.” The chapter thus closes with a call for justice to be done, even in the face of vast injustice.
In Chapter Five, Steinbeck demonstrates how the quest for ever-increasing profit dehumanizes not only those injured as a result, but those undertaking the quest in the first place. The novel will often ask the question: How can the larger systems of life affirm and nurture, rather than diminish and hurt, humanity?
He vividly describes the feeling of helplessness that the tenant experiences as he watches his home being destroyed by the tractor.