Transient Camps

There are two moments in The Grapes of Wrath that I find most arresting. The first one takes place when Ma refuses to turn around and look behind her as the Joad family leaves their homestead located in Cherokee County near Sallisaw. . . . Having already left behind some of her keepsakes, Ma resolutely sets her face on her family’s future in California. For her, there could be no looking back.

The second moment takes place after they are in California – after both Grandpa and Grandma both have died en route and had to be buried in a strange land– and the Joads are directed to go to a “Transient Camp” located beyond the city limits. [screen shot] By the time the Joads have arrived, they have already broken the living chain that linked them with the community in Oklahoma where they had lived their entire lives.

Tom’s conversation with The Preacher provides the vehicle for Steinbeck to narrate most of the back story about what had happened in the past.

When I saw the sign “Transient Camp” midway through the movie version of Steinbeck’s story, I was reminded of an incident that had taken place more than 34 years before. At the time, Mary and I were living on the top floor of an old house on Markham Street on the north side of Durham near I-85. One evening we had some friends over to visit. Several people drove cars. The driveway between the house where we lived and the neighbor’s driveway was not well-marked. The guys parked where they could see a place, and one of them had parked in such a way as to partially block the neighbor’s driveway.

After dinner we saw lights flashing. The neighbor had called the police to have our friend’s car towed. I remember being flabbergasted that she did this without engaging us in any way. We were able to avoid the car being towed, but our friend had to pay the charge. Our neighbor was livid. I remember her stomping off after she made it clear that she regarded us as “a bunch of transients.” At the time, I was indignant. After all, we were students at Duke Divinity School.

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About mcartwright1957

I am a member of the senior administrative team at the University of Indianapolis where I have served since 1996. I am married to Mary Wilder Cartwright. We are the parents of four children: Hannah, Erin, James, and Bethany. I currently live in Nashville, IN.
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