Summer Close Reading Essay
The Joad Family as a Land Turtle
Just over half of the thirty chapters of The Grapes of Wrath are intercalary chapters, chapters deviating from the main narrative of the Joads that focus on a broader picture of the landscape and history of the Joad era. The Grapes of Wrath is as much historical record and social commentary as it is a narrative of one family’s odyssey through the Great Depression West. While criticized by some as distracting from the Joad narrative, the intercalary chapters cannot be ignored as fluff attached to the novel. The intercalary chapters buttress the main story by interweaving details among the chapters and bringing a specific situation into a larger historical picture. These chapters are not merely common literary techniques such as metaphors and symbols. Along with historical context and social commentary, these chapters reach out to prior events and foreshadow future events, while bringing these events to a universal level. At a base level, Chapter Three is an account of the movement of a land turtle and it struggles across the Oklahoman land. In less than three pages, John Steinbeck uses the techniques of the intercalary chapters to represent the turtle as a symbol of the Joad family and their struggle, along with the trials of other migrant families, and as an inspiring message for the human race as a whole.
In historical and social context, the struggle of the land turtle represents the utter harshness and tribulations of life during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, and the natural and human forces that caused this. The opening words of the chapter describe a “concrete highway edged with a mat of tangled, broken, dry grass,” (Steinbeck 20) and various objects that could injure passing animals and humans. This descriptive paragraph describes the harshness of the American Midwest, pounded for months by dust storms and unrelenting droughts. The Dust Bowl is affecting...