I believe that there is one story in the world. . . . Humans are caught . . . in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story.See Important Quotations Explained
The narrator discusses the struggle between good and evil, which he says is the one recurring narrative of human history. He says that people can be measured by the world’s reaction to their deaths. He remembers one man who made a fortune on the backs of others but then attempted to make it up later by becoming a philanthropist; people took that man’s death with quiet relief. He remembers a second man who had always been immoral, manipulating others under the pretense of virtue; people greeted his death with joy. Finally, the narrator remembers a third man who made many errors but who devoted his life to giving others strength in a time of great need; when he died, people burst into incredible grief.
The Trasks move to Salinas proper, buying the house in which Dessie Hamilton lived before she moved to the ranch with Tom. Lee leaves to open his bookstore in San Francisco. Aron and Cal discuss Lee’s departure, and Aron bets Cal ten cents that Lee will come back. Aron wins the bet, as Lee returns only six days later. Lee tells Adam that he was lonesome, that he realized he really did not want to run a bookstore, and that he is very glad to be home.
Aron and Cal begin school in Salinas and are assigned to the seventh grade. They quickly prove themselves to be bright, popular students. Aron is well liked, whereas Cal bullies his way into respect on the playground.
After the first day of school, Aron follows Abra Bacon to her house and asks her to marry him someday. She takes him to a secret place—a canopy of leaves beneath a willow tree—where she says they can practice being married. Abra asks Aron about his mother and pretends to be his mother herself by laying his head in her lap. He begins to cry. Abra tells Aron that she overheard her parents saying that Aron’s mother is still alive. Aron does not believe her because it would mean that Adam and Lee have lied to him. Abra gives Aron a kiss before she leaves.
In 1915, Lee buys an icebox for the family, which starts Adam thinking about a possible way to make money: packing produce in ice and shipping it in refrigerated train cars to areas of the country that normally cannot get perishable produce during the winter. Will Hamilton tells Adam that his idea is foolish, but Adam tries it anyway. The scheme is a disaster, as the train is delayed at every turn, and the Salinas lettuce that Adam ships arrives rotten and late in the east, just as the skeptics predicted.
After the shipping boondoggle, Adam’s once-sizable fortune is depleted to the point that he only has $9,000 to his name. Aron and Cal become the butt of jokes at school, and Adam is the laughing stock of the town. Only Abra stands by Aron, promising never to desert him. Cal, increasingly jealous of the time Abra and Aron spend together, becomes frustrated and restless. Because Adam is no longer universally respected in town, rumors begin to spread about Cathy and about Adam’s past. Abra overhears one such rumor and advises Aron to ask his father about his mother, but Aron nervously declines.