Beginning in the month of May, a drought damages the cornfields of Oklahoma. As the land’s fertility wanes, the earth and the sky grow steadily more pale. In June, wind blows away all clouds that offered any chance of rain. This wind increases. Soon, Oklahoma is engulfed in a furious dust storm that ruins the crops beyond saving.
The book opens with a bleak depiction of the dustbowl. Every hope for rain that appears is promptly crushed by nature. The author’s repetition of the word “pale” highlights the gradual destruction of the landscape.
Farming families look in dazed disbelief at the harm the weather has done to their fields. Women worry that their husbands will “break,” and children worry that their mothers and fathers will “break.” Yet the farming men’s initial dismay turns to anger, and this reassures their wives and children: “women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.” The men then begin to think of what to do next.
The impoverished Oklahoma farmers will persevere in circumstances that seem hopeless. It’s important to note that the men’s wrath—“anger” instead of passive “dismay”—is what assures their families that they won’t give up. And it isn't catastrophe that destroys a person—it's giving up.