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The Grapes of Wrath Quotes: Selfishness & Greed

Instructor: Rachel Hanson
In this lesson we learn about the greed and selfishness of individuals, corporate land owners, and banks in 'The Grapes of Wrath,' and how a system of those who have and those who don't is perpetrated during the Great Depression.

The Haves and the Have Nots

The Grapes of Wrath has a lot of complex themes running throughout it, but if we had to sum up the novel in one quick phrase we could say it's about 'the Haves and the Have Nots.'

What Steinbeck shows us is how this system of rich and poor is perpetuated during the Great Depression. It basically boils down to the greed of those who care more for profit than the well-being of the people, such as the tenant farmers, who work for them.

However, it's not only the land owners and the banks who reveal their greed in the Grapes of Wrath, but also individuals who see what the wealthy have and plan to get it without regard for their family, as Connie and Rose of Sharon do when making plans for California.

Selfishness

A Tractor Driver

A tractor that replaced farmers
Tractor farm

Early on in the novel we see a former tenant farmer who has taken a job driving a tractor for the land owners, putting the farmers out of work. A farmer asks him how he can justify it. The driver explains that he got ''sick of creeping for my dinner--and not getting it. I got a wife and kids. We got to eat. Three dollars a day and it comes every day.''

The farmer argues that ''But for three dollars a day fifteen or twenty families can't eat at all. Nearly a hundred people have to go out and wander on the roads for your three dollars a day. Is that right?''

As we can see here, the man driving the tractor decides to forsake the good of all the tenant farmers by taking a job that makes them obsolete. Although the tractor driver does not take joy in this, he's decided to care for his and his own regardless of who it hurts.

Rose of Sharon and Connie

In another example of selfishness, the eldest Joad daughter Rose of Sharon and her husband Connie intend to leave the Joads and, instead of picking fruit, settle down in town and and pursue a materialistic lifestyle. Rose of Sharon explains to her mother that ''Me an' Connie don't want to live in the country no more.''

Ma Joad is surprised that her daughter won't stay with the family, and Rose continues, ''Connie gonna get a job in a store or maybe a fact'ry. ...An' we'll have a car, little car… I'm gonna have a 'lectric iron, an' the baby'll have new stuff…''}

This dream does not end up happening, and ultimately Connie proves most selfish by abandoning his pregnant wife to go make money on his own.

Greed

Camp Proprietor

Greed often comes hand in hand with selfishness. In Chapter 16 we see the camp proprietor try to take advantage of the Joads who, like many migrant farmers, have no money to spare. The family has paid for a camp spot already, but the owner wants Tom, who arrives later, to pay separately.

Tom argues that he could just sleep in a ditch for free. The proprietor begins to give a subtle threat, ''Deputy Sheriff comes on by in the night. Might make it tough for ya. Got a law against sleepin' out in this State. Got a law about vagrants. '' Tom takes note of the injustice and says, ''If I pay you a half a dollar I ain't a vagrant, huh?'' ''That's right. ''

Tom is forced to leave the camp and sleep a bit down the road and wait for the family to catch up the next day.

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