The narrator discusses his view of history. He believes that the human capacity for nostalgia causes most unpleasant events to be glossed over or forgotten. He chalks up the entire nineteenth century, including the Civil War, to a great upwelling of greed and brutality. As the twentieth century began, he says, people had to forget the previous century in order to move into the next.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.
The narrator writes that it is individuals, not groups, who accomplish great and inspired deeds. In light of this belief, he worries that the twentieth century’s move toward automation and mass production will dampen the creative faculties of humankind.
Adam Trask moves Cathy, his newfound creative inspiration, to the Salinas Valley in California, despite her wishes to the contrary. The day Adam and Cathy leave, Charles drinks himself into a stupor, visits a prostitute, and weeps when he finds that the alcohol has made him impotent.
Adam meets many of the Salinas Valley locals, immediately fits in with them, and begins his search for a good plot of land to buy. Returning home one day, he finds Cathy unconscious and nearly dead of blood loss in the bedroom. Adam fetches a doctor, who quickly realizes that Cathy is pregnant and that she has tried to abort her baby with a knitting needle. The furious doctor scolds Cathy for attempting to destroy life, but she placates him by lying that her family has a history of epilepsy and that she was afraid she would pass on her epilepsy on to her unborn child. The doctor believes Cathy and reassures her that epilepsy is not hereditary. He tells Adam that Cathy is pregnant.
Adam drives out to speak to Samuel Hamilton to get advice about a plot of land, as Adam has heard that Samuel is very knowledgeable about the valley. The two men discuss their plans for the future. The next day, Adam decides to buy an old ranch halfway between the towns of King City and San Lucas.
Olive Hamilton, one of Samuel’s daughters (and the mother of the novel’s narrator), becomes a teacher in order to avoid life as a ranch wife. Determined to live in a town, she refuses to marry a farmer of any kind. Finally, she marries the owner of the King City flourmill and has four children. The narrator remembers his mother as a strict, loving woman who hammered a fear of debt into her children and who nursed her son through a severe case of pneumonia.