The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 4 Summary

Instructor: Erin Burke

Erin has taught college level english courses and has a master's degree in english.

This lesson will summarize Chapter 4 of John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath.' In this chapter, Tom Joad runs into the preacher Jim Casy, who reveals his doubts in organized religion. Casy outlines his new philosophy, and the two men walk toward the Joad homestead together, only to find it abandoned.

Tom and the Turtle

Chapter 4 finds us back in the main narrative, with our protagonist, Tom Joad. Joad has just been dropped off by the trucker, and he stands alone for a while, sipping at the whiskey from his pocket flask. Finally he takes a few steps, only to stop and remove his stiff new shoes. He removes his coat and wraps his shoes in it. Then he takes off, walking barefoot, sending clouds of dust up as he goes. All around Tom are images of Dust Bowl devastation -- the blazing sun, the merciless dust, and the corn, 'beaten down by wind and heat and drought.'

Our friend from Chapter 3, that determined and resolute turtle, is back. Joad spots the turtle and picks it up. He examines it for a minute, turning it upside down and touching the 'smooth undershell.' Understandably the turtle panics and struggles in vain to get free. Joad rolls the turtle into his coat, along with his shoes, and continues walking.

Another Encounter

As Joad moves on, the heat becomes too much to bear. He makes for a willow tree in desperate search for shade. Upon reaching the tree he realizes he is no longer alone -- a man sits under the tree, singing a song to himself about Jesus. He stops singing when he hears Joad and studies the intruder carefully. Joad speaks first with a simple : 'Hi. It's hotter'n hell on the road.'

The man recognizes Joad as 'ol' Tom's boy', and reveals that he is the preacher who baptized Joad in his youth. Joad remembers, and we learn the man's name -- he is Jim Casy. Joad remembers the preacher from loud, boisterous 'meetin's', or worship sessions. But things have changed since Joad left town. The one-time fire-and-brimstone preacher is no longer so sure of his faith. As Casy tells it, he 'Ain't got the call no more.'

Philosophy in the Shade

Joad pulls out the flask and offers it to the preacher, who willingly takes a few gulps. He then goes on to explain his crisis of faith to Joad, and to explain the philosophy that has taken the place of his Christian religion. Casy has been spending a lot of time reflecting on life's big questions, and he can't find the answer in Christianity anymore.

Casy describes how almost every time he led a prayer meeting, he would end up 'layin' up with a girl' afterward. Even though Casy's religion preached that such things were 'from the devil,' he could never resist the carnal temptation. He struggled with this for a long time, and finally decided to spend some time alone to give the problem a 'damn good thinkin' about.' In doing so, he has a revelation. This carnal desire, the sensual side of humanity? 'Maybe it ain't a sin. Maybe it's just the way folks is.'

Casy continues explaining his epiphany: 'There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing.' Joad is intrigued by this. Casy continues explaining. In his view, Jesus doesn't matter. People do. Carefully, trying not to offend Joad, Casy lays out the ultimate conclusion he has come to. There is no 'God' or 'Jesus' or 'Holy Spirit.' The only spirit that matters is the human spirit, and we are all part of it: 'one big soul.' Pretty heavy stuff for a couple of guys trying to stay cool in wretched conditions.

Joad is unable to look the preacher in the eye, intimidated by the 'naked honesty' he sees there. Joad tells Casy he can't continue to be a preacher with such ideas as he has professed. He points out that people like religion; it 'makes em feel swell.' Casy responds by asking Joad if he feels that his baptizing did him any good in his life. Joad can't say that it had any effect on him either way.

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