Design

the objects of our affection

When everything that could be sold was sold, stoves and bedsteads, chairs and tables, little corner cupboards, tubs and tanks, still there were piles of possessions; and the women sat among them, turning them over and looking off beyond and back, pictures, square glasses, and here’s a vase.

Now you know well what we can take and what we can’t take. We’ll be camping out — a few pots to cook and wash in, and mattresses and comforts, lanterns and buckets, and a piece of canvas. Use that for a tent. This kerosene can. Know what that is? That’s the stove. And clothes — take all the clothes.

And — the rifle? Wouldn’t go naked of a rifle. When shoes and clothes and food, when even hope is gone, we’ll have the rifle. When grampa came — did I tell you? — he had pepper and salt and a rifle. Nothing else. That goes. And a bottle for water. That just about fills us. Right up the sides of the trailer, and the kids can set in the trailer, and granma on a mattress. Tools, a shovel and saw and wrench and pliers. An ax, too. We had that ax forty years. Look how she’s wore down. And ropes, of course. The rest? Leave it — or burn it up.

And the children came.

If Mary takes that doll, that dirty rag doll, I got to take my Injun bow. I got to. An’ this roun’ stick — big as me. I might need this stick. I had this stick so long — a month, or maybe a year. I got to take it. And what’s it like in California?

The women sat among the doomed things, turning them over and looking past them and back. This book. My father had it. He liked a book. Pilgrim’s Progress. Used to read it. Got his name in it. And his pipe — still smells rank. And this picture — an angel. I looked at that before the furst three come — didn’t seem to do much good. Think we could get this china dog in? Aunt Sadie brought it from the St. Louis Fair. See? Wrote right on it. No, I guess not. Here’s a letter my brother wrote the day before he died. Here’s and old-time hat. These feathers — never got to use them. No, there isn’t room.

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it.

They sat at looked at it and burned it into their memories. How’ll it be not to know what land’s outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know — and know the willow tree’s not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you. The pain on that mattress there — that dreadful pain — that’s you.

And the children — if Sam takes his Injun bow an’ his long roun’ stick, I get to take two things. I choose the fluffy pilla. That’s mine.

Suddenly they were nervous. Got to get out quick now. Can’t wait. We can’t wait. And they piled up the goods in the yards and set fire to them. They stood and watched them burning, and then frantically they loaded up the cars and drove away, drove in the dust. The dust hung in the air for a long time after the loaded cars had passed.

Steinbeck, John. “Chapter 9.” The Grapes of Wrath. New York: The Viking Press, 1939.

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