Tom and Casy observe that the Joad homestead was quickly and recently abandoned. One side of the house is seriously damaged, a window has been broken, and the furnishings are gone. Furthermore, Tom concludes that the entire neighborhood must be deserted, because nobody has stripped the house’s useful plank siding—had there been neighbors around, they would have been quick to borrow anything left behind.
Tom’s observation that neighbors would have taken the Joads’ plank siding recalls the quasi-theft through which the Joads acquired their own home. Oklahoma tenant farmers will clearly use any materials available to them—and the fact that the plank siding is still around is ominous.
An old neighbor, Muley Graves, is spotted as he walks through the cotton fields by Casy and Tom. They speak with him, and Muley talks at length about how he has chosen to stay alone, and is unwilling to leave his land. Muley explains that Tom’s folks were forced out of their home and are now staying with Tom’s Uncle, John. The Joads plan to pick cotton in order to earn enough money to drive to California in search of work.
Here, we learn for certain that the Joads have been evicted, like the families described in Chapter 5. Muley symbolizes the near impossibility of resisting the advance of the banks’ tractors, and his decision to resist has made him alone.
Muley keeps talking, only semi-coherently, about his compulsion to stay on the land, even though he, too, has been evicted by the bank. He sleeps where he can and eats whatever animals he can catch on the prairies. He shows his kills of the day, and Tom gets excited to see fresh meat for the first time in four years. Muley somewhat reluctantly agrees to share his food with Tom and Casy. Over dinner, Muley continues to reflect on his connection to the land, remembering the dust in which his father died and the grass where he first slept with a woman.
Muley’s fanatical refusal to leave his land is an amazing exercise in determination, and it illustrates the profound connection to the land that Oklahoma tenant farmers experience. His loneliness and waning sanity also illustrates the importance of the farming community to each of its individual members. As that community disappears, Muley loses himself..
After the men finish eating, they are forced to hide from a police car’s searchlights to avoid being arrested for trespassing. Tom wants to put up a fight, but Muley tells him that he doesn’t understand how bad it is to be hunted and forces Tom and Casy to hide in the field with him. Once the police have left, Muley beds down in a hidden cave and Tom sleeps outside, while Casy stays awake to think.
While Tom, unaccustomed to the feeling of being hunted, is still eager to resist the powers that be. Muley’s experience shows that the institutions that evicted the tenant farmers are too strong to resist on one’s own. The men must hide in order to avoid being arrested on trespassing on land where they have lived for generations.