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The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 11 Summary

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Chapter 11 of ''The Grapes of Wrath'' focuses on the houses that are left behind as those who abandoned them travel west, as well as the different relationships that distant land-owners have with the land, compared to those who used to work the land themselves.

Short but Powerful Chapter

Chapter 11 is only a few pages long and has no action that advances the plot, but it provides a compelling description of the houses and the land that are left behind once the people have gone. While most of The Grapes of Wrath focuses on the action of the people who are seeking new jobs and new lives, Steinbeck occasionally draws attention to the abandoned places left in their wake, and what happens to those areas.

Abandoned Houses, Abandoned Land

Chapter 11 opens with the line, ''The houses were left vacant on the land, and the land was vacant because of this.'' The theme of 'vacancy' continues through the short chapter, permeating all descriptions of the buildings and the land they're on. Steinbeck argues that when horses worked the land, there was still some life left when the horses stopped for the day; there was still a sense of warmth. Tractors, however, have no life and warmth, so when they stop for the day, the land and barns are as good as dead, and no vitality remains.

Work without Wonder

Continuing on the above point, the chapter goes into a discussion of work and how it has lost its wonder with the introduction of the tractor. While the tractor and the man who operates it might be more efficient than the men who worked their own land in the past, there is no longer any connection between men and property. This is because both men and land are more than efficiency and more than analysis: there is a life force in each.

Steinbeck paints vivid descriptions of the differences: ''That man who is more than his chemistry, walking the earth, turning his low point for a stone... kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch... But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself.'' Lines like this make up this chapter: The central idea is that, while the new economy might have greater efficiency and greater profit, it all comes at the great cost of humanity and connection.

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