Why did the turtle cross the road?

Andreas Kluth, soon-to-be-published author and a writer for The Economist magazine, is rereading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath now that his beat is the State of California and the state of California. He got me thinking again about the novel that wedged its way into my life every April.

It is surely one of the most complete descriptions of human heartache.

And of human hope. And anger. Remember, we have Wrath in the title.

Of all our high school discussions about everything from dust to the shocking ending in which Rose of Sharon nurses a starving man (high school kids were grossed out by this thought!) the inter chapter which describes the turtle trying to cross a  highway evoked the best conversations.

One doesn’t have to be a literary or biblical expert to determine Steinbeck’s intention using this reptilian metaphor  at the beginning of a story about the downtrodden Oakies, trying to make their way in the 1930’s across Route 66 to what they thought was the Promised Land of California, the so-called Land of Milk and Honey.

As the turtle begins his journey across the road (of life), motorists (humanity) fall into one of two categories: those who try to hit the turtle, thus rendering it road kill, or those who swerve to avoid it, and in some cases,   risk their own safety240px-Florida_Box_Turtle_Digon3_re-edited-1.

Humans seem to fit into one of these two groups today.

Don’t you think?

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in On fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why did the turtle cross the road?

  1. Douglas says:

    Humans have always fit into those two groups, I think. We are one of the few, if not only, species that consist of both predator and prey within the group also. That is, we have those who prey on their own kind.

  2. Christopher says:

    Nice picture of the turtle.

    Is it, though, a tortoise?

  3. andreaskluth says:

    As you said, I’m just now reading it, and I’m in a really heart-wrenching place. It’s such a powerful tale. Simultaneously universal (the inter chapters remind you of that) and individual.

    I probably agree with Douglas that the last word in your thesis is superfluous: “Humans seem to fit into one of these two groups today.”

    But: That’s us talking about the motorists. What about the title of your post? Tom Joad was wondering where on earth that forlorn turtle could possibly be going to. The dustbowl was just as dusty on this side of the street as on the other side. And yet that turtle always seemed to have some place to go. Was it faking it?

    We can talk about which kind of motorist we are (and I suspect we all know). I’m almost more intrigued about what kind of turtle I am.

  4. Cheri says:

    The turtle crossed the road because the turtle is a part of nature. Nature is indifferent to man’s plight. This theme will play out in the novel, as you know.

    Man is a pawn of the universe. The Naturalists, London, Dreisser, Norris, Steinbeck, Crane..reiterated this belief in their writing.

    I am not sure what kind of turtle you are but I suspect evolution will have the answer.


  5. voyageusejoyeuse says:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s