This chapter returns to a broader description of the worsening farming situation in Oklahoma. The landowners confront the farmers who rent farmland from them—known as tenant farmers—and tell them they have to vacate the land. The farm owners are described as either self-loathing, angry, or cold, and all of them are forced to be cruel by a system “larger than themselves” that runs on mathematical calculations of profits. In turn, the banks that some landowners work for are “monsters” that enslave humans. Technology fuels the wealthier people’s greed: one man on a tractor can now cultivate as much cotton as a dozen families could. These tractor men raze and “rape” the land, knocking over any tenant families’ houses that stand in their way.
This scene strongly emphasizes the dehumanizing effects of large institutions. The banks are “monsters” that have grown well past the control of the humans running them. In search of higher profits, landowners disregard the basic human needs of their tenant farmers, even if it pains the landowners to do so. This inhumanity is heightened by the use of machines, like tractors, which do the work of dozens of people, without the same connection to the land. And note the contrast: the Joad’s “stole” an unoccupied house. The landowners re-possess occupied houses.
A tractor man, the son of a local farmer, is accosted by another farmer for working “against [his] own people.” The tractor man explains that he gets three dollars a day to do his work, and can only afford to worry about the welfare of his own family. The tenant farmer threatens to shoot the tractor man if he demolishes the home he built by hand, but the tractor man reminds the farmer that the bank is too big to fight, and that there are plenty of men in line to operate the tractors.
Like the landowners, the tractor man is part of a system that is far beyond his control. Just as the tenant farmers are powerless to resist the tractor men, the tractor man is powerless to oppose the harms he’s doing: if he sides with his people, he’ll lose his livelihood and be quickly replaced by someone else willing to do the dirty work to keep his family alive.