A Turtle in Disguise

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Chapter three of The Grapes of Wrath is all about this poor turtle trying to cross the road. The turtle comes into the story when Joad finds him and tries to keep him to show his siblings. I feel if a whole chapter is devoted to something that seems off topic or is not a central character than there must be some metaphor linking it.

I think the turtle either symbolizes the struggle and failure of the tenants who are thrown off the land. Or he symbolizes the persitance and eventually success of the tenants who (after being driven off their land) didn't die and made the trip to California.

The focus on the turtle's struggles to cross the road is like the tenants struggling to make the land grow and the tenants struggle to live after being kicked out. "And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it" (15). The turtle getting hit by the car could also be like the tenants being pushed down by the Banks and the tractors and pushed off their path. Machinery and man-made objects nearly cost them their life.

The turtle wanders also to the south(east/west?) just like Joad's family does when they head out for California. What else could the turtle stand for? Or other connections to Joad's family?

I found it interesting too that the woman didn't try to hit the turtle and nearly had an accident avoiding it. What is Steinbeck trying to say here?

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Andrew Adams said:

I totally agree with your interpretation of the metaphor. Since I have already read this book reading it again makes all the symbols make more sense. I feel that it mostly symbolizes the will of the Okies to never give up, and to always push forward in their journey, which comes up a ton in the later parts of the book.

This part could be in some way a spoiler, so if you're worried do not continue. It is not that important though. One possible reason for the woman not hitting the turtle is that the women in the book, at least to me anyway, are really the ones that keep the family together. The turtle could represent family, and the woman does not hit it because she is trying to protect family, while some of the men in the book's actions destroy families. That's just a thought I had on that topic.

PS I'm pretty sure the turtle is going southwest, which would be the direction of California

Aja Hannah said:

Yeah! The turtle is traveling with them! And he wants to do it himself so he's angry anytime someone tries to help him. (I don't know if its true, but he is a solitary figure.) This is good insight that I can use in my groups paper about the turtle. (Don't steal my idea!)

Christopher Dufalla said:

The turtle seems to mimick the struggling of the characters within the novel. He tries to make his way to his goal (a goal that we do not know the identity of) regardless of what challenge or impediment comes along his way. It would appear that Steinbeck might even be alluding to the old tale of the "Tortise and the Hare": slow and steady wins the race. Perhaps eventually the tenants will win out over the banks and tractors?

Georgia Speer said:

Aja, thanks for bringing the turtle up as a topic to discuss, I thought this exactly why was so much emphasis expressed over this “land” turtle. I see Andrew’s and Christopher’s blogs in response and I totally agree with Christopher, that this is connecting with me as well as to the story about the “Tortise and the Hare”. The tenants are the tortise, slow but sure and the tractors are the hare, fast and accurate.
To Andrew’s comments, I agree the women didn’t want to hit the turtle and cause and hurt, and avoided this at all costs, even harm to herself. But the man tried to hit the turtle, sometimes causing deliberate pain. The turtle definitely played a significant symbol also as to the many escapes it tried to make because no matter who or what seemed to turn it off course, it would prevail staying on it’s route, to where, nobody knows but it sure has the determination that nothing or nobody will stop it, just like the land tenants. As on page 21 in chapter 3, “As the embankment grew steeper and steeper, the more frantic were the efforts of the land turtle.” Doesn’t this mimic the behavior of the Joad family as in chapter ten while rushing around the house in the middle of the night frantically packing up to leave? The end of chapter 12, “But how can such courage be, and such faith in their own species? Very few things would teach such faith.” Doesn’t the land turtle’s species seem to have that unconditional determination and faith that these land tenants have to the land as well?

Rebecca Marrie said:

I believe that by explaining how the woman didn't try to hit the turtle and nearly had an accident avoiding it, Steinbeck was trying to portray the locals respect of the land. While the new machines had no problem tearing into the tenants property, the tenants would treat the land gently, not wanting to harm it.

Georgia Speer said:

Rebecca, I agree with your your comment, that thought didn't pop into my mind at first, but I see how that is the case that the locals have respect where the new machines and bankers do not have the love of the land. But does Steinbeck give any indication that the "light truck" (22), wasn't a local as well? It could be due to the hints given in chapter two that the truckers are not locals and that they are constantly just moving through the area. As the truck skinner says, "They're just goddam sick of goin'-get sick of it." (15) So is Steinbeck wanting us to associate trucks in the area as non-locals just passing through? I am not sure, but this anaylsis makes sense to me.

Sue said:

Hey Aja, you made some really great points. I wrote about the turtle too but I kind of thought he represented Tom himself. But I totally agree with you that the turtle could also represent the tenants. Seriously, thanks for helping me to look a little more outside the box. :)

Georgia Speer said:

Well, now Sue puts a different twist on this, and I can also see how the turtle can represent Tom. Through Steinbeck's writing he does elude to this as well. Gee, funny how we can keep going as we see different interpretations on it. "The turtle entered a dust road and jerked itself along, drawing a wavy shallow trench iin the dust with its shell." (22) Isn't Tom Joad doing the same by heading where his instinct tells him to head towards home? The turtle is also heading on a journey, like Tom, neither knows where for certain, but their determination will get them there, where ever that destination may be.

Aja Hannah said:

I also found similarities to Tom and the Joad family when they leave. They take only the things they can carry. Similar to the turtle who only takes what he can carry on his back.

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Georgia Speer on A Turtle in Disguise: Well, now Sue puts a different
Sue on A Turtle in Disguise: Hey Aja, you made some really
Georgia Speer on A Turtle in Disguise: Rebecca, I agree with your you
Rebecca Marrie on A Turtle in Disguise: I believe that by explaining h
Georgia Speer on A Turtle in Disguise: Aja, thanks for bringing the t
Christopher Dufalla on A Turtle in Disguise: The turtle seems to mimick the
Aja Hannah on A Turtle in Disguise: Yeah! The turtle is traveling
Andrew Adams on A Turtle in Disguise: I totally agree with your inte