The Grapes of Wrath Quotes

The stream eddied and boiled against the bank. Then, from up the stream there came a ripping crash. The beam of the flashlight showed a great cottonwood toppling. The men stopped to watch. The branches of the tree sank into the water and edged around with the current while the stream dug out the little roots. Slowly the tree was freed, and slowly it edged down the stream. The weary men watched, their mouths hanging open. The tree moved slowly down. Then a branch caught on a stump, snagged and held…The tree moved and tore the bank. A little stream slipped through. Pa threw himself forward and jammed mud in the break. The water piled against the tree. And then the bank washed quickly down, washed around ankles, around knees. The men broke and ran, and the current worked smoothly into the flat, under cars, under automobiles.

– John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 30. Pa Joad’s quick thinking in constructing a dam saves the family for a short time. But in the end nature wins. The dam holding the swollen stream back is ripped apart by an uprooted great cottonwood tree. The current sweeps down to the cars and the Joads’ engine is flooded. There is irony here in that the men break and run, since in the previous chapter we are told that the men don’t break. The tree moving down to the embankment, breaking a hole in it and releasing a flood of water down to the cars and killing the Joads’ engine is symbolic and foreshadowing. We soon learn that as this is happening, Rose of Sharon is laboring through and delivering her stillbirth in the Joads’ boxcar. One outside event mirrors another unseen drama inside. A depressing picture of hopelessness is presented in this passage.