The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Chapter 17

An important pattern of behavior emerges among the migrant laborers. During the day, as they travel, their cars are separate and lonely, yet in the evening a strange thing happens: at the campgrounds where they stay the twenty or so families become one. Their losses and their concerns become communal. The families are at first timid, but they gradually build small societies within the campgrounds, with codes of behavior and rights that must be observed. For transgressions, there are only two punishments: violence and ostracism. Leaders emerge, generally the wise elders. The various families find connections to one another


This chapter focuses on the society of the migrant workers, a somewhat idealized society that forms spontaneously. It is an essentially communal society, one with rules and regulations that determine polite behavior and that enable the various, disparate families to find common interests. In essence, Steinbeck uses the campground life to depict a utopian order in which ostentatious displays of wealth are shunned, equality reigns, and no real ruling class emerges. The closest approximation to a ruling class is the group of elders, who rule from wisdom and experience.

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