The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Chapter 2
Summary

A man approaches a small diner where a large red transport truck is parked. The man is under thirty, with dark brown eyes and high cheekbones. He wears new clothes that don't quite fit. The truck driver exits the diner and the man asks him for a ride, despite the "No Riders" sticker on the truck. The man claims that sometimes a guy will do a good thing even when a rich bastard makes him carry a sticker, and the driver, feeling trapped by the statement, lets the man have a ride. While driving, the truck driver asks questions, and the man finally gives his name, Tom Joad. The truck driver claims that guys do strange things when they drive trucks, such as make up poetry, because of the loneliness of the job. The truck driver also claims that his experience driving has trained his memory and that he can remember everything about a person he comes across. Realizing that the truck driver is trying to glean information, Tom finally admits that he has just been released from McAlester prison, where he had been serving time for homicide. He had been sentenced to seven years and was released after only four, on account of good behavior.

Analysis

The Oklahoma City Transport Company truck is both imposing and intrusive, a symbol of pervasive corporate influence (as shown by the "No Riders" sticker that is so prominently displayed). Tom Joad immediately voices the idea that business is cold and heartless when he asks the truck driver for a ride. Overall, The Grapes of Wrath is unsparingly critical of business and the rich: these groups, here, serve only to keep truck drivers isolated and bored to the point of near insanity.

As for Steinbeck's first primary character, there are several indications that Tom Joad has recently been released from prison. His clothing is recently prison-issued: it does not quite fit him, it is far too formal, and it is spotless so far. He has few possessions with him. The truck driver immediately realizes Tom's recent circumstances; his probing questions, as Tom realizes, are meant to elicit a more particular confession of the crime Tom committed. The little information that Tom reveals about himself shows him to be a shrewd but uneducated man. He can barely write and is accustomed to little more than hard labor, but he is clever enough to know how to manipulate the truck driver into giving him a ride.

A persistent strain of anti-elitism runs throughout the novel. Beyond the contempt that Tom and the truck driver collectively show for big business and the rich, these two men also sharply criticize those who use ?big words. According to them, only a preacher can use educated language, for a preacher can be trusted. When employed by others, big words merely serve as a means to obscure and confuse.

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