"Over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing....His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly....The barley beards slid off his shell, and the clover burrs fell on him and rolled to the ground. His horny beak was partly open, and his fierce, humorous eyes, under brows like fingernails, stared straight ahead."
Paroled from state prison, Tom Joad is walking home to the farm where his family sharecrops. Seeing the turtle, he picks it up. Later, meeting Jim Casy, a wandering preacher who has lost the Spirit, Joad explains that the turtle is a present for his younger brother.
When they get to the farm, they find it abandoned and partially destroyed. While wondering what to do next, Joad decides to release the turtle. Then he and the preacher watch it crawl away. "Where the hell you s’pose he’s goin’?" said Joad. "I seen turtles all my life. They’re always goin’ someplace. They always seem to want to get there."
For me and, it turns out, for at least some others, that turtle keeps crawling along through John Steinbeck’s whole shebang.
by Bil Gilbert