Chapter 25

 “Then the first tendrils of the grapes, swelling from the old gnarled vines, cascade down to cover the trunks.” If Steinbeck is a great writer of human condition, he is also a poet who describes the glory of the Californian orchards in bloom, the development of the buds into beautiful  fruits.

Heavy Grapes

It has been a good year for the big and little farmers: “The year is heavy with produce.” Their knowledge of the land, their skills at selectionning seeds and at grafting and their patience are bearing fruits. There is a surplus of everything: grapes, oranges, peaches, plums, cherries, potatoes. But they have no buyers. The economic crash created unemployment on a big scale, curving down the demand for goods.  

 Big owners dump their crops in the river, on the roads. As hungry migrants come to rescue what is being dumped, the big farmers spread the fruits and vegetables with kerosene or burn them. Goods have to be bought or destroyed to keep up the price. These are the rules of the market. This is “the saddest, bitterest thing of all”. Starving children are getting disease or dying from malnutrition, and the big farmers are destroying what could save them.  

 A crime, a sorrow, a failure. This is what Steinbeck describes as happening in California.

As fruits are left to rot, the financial outcome will be different for the big and the small farmers. Big farmers also own canneries and they can process part of the harvest by canning it. The only thing small farmers can do is watch their debt growing, knowing that, next year, their orchard will be part of a greater holding.

 “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”