Grapes of Wrath is a classic literary piece for several reasons, one of them being that Steinbeck is renowned for his ability to develop characters to their fullest. It makes perfect sense that he would weave the characters and the economic / social conditions into a logical tapestry of descriptive narrative in alternating chapters. Indeed, it is likely true that Steinbeck's characters were designed to basically be in readers' faces, the way the Dust Bowl and additional grim social and economic challenges of the times were in the characters' faces. Times were not just hard they were nearly impossible.
In fact, the way Steinbeck put this novel together, one chapter in most cases sets up the next, rather than being simply progressive linkage of tone, setting, plot, theme and irony. In Chapter 14 (p. 150) Steinbeck's narrative paints a picture of the land, the powers that be, the plight of the people and the challenges, without mentioning the Joads. "The Western States, nervous as horses before a thunder storm," Steinbeck writes. He embraces metaphor after metaphor in his desire to show the reader the big picture. "...Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments." No matter that theories "change or crash" or that the "...narrow dark alleys of thought...grow and disintegrate," mankind stumbles along. As to the plight of the folks who lost their land because the bank came and took it, the "Western states are nervous under the beginning change."
And then in Chapter 15, Steinbeck brings the people back into the story as "Joe or Carl or Al" are cooking in the diner and Mae is the waitress, "smiling, irritated, near to outbreak," looking past new customers and when they leave she tells Al, the cook, that those customers are "*****heels." Readers get a feel for the grim world of the Depression, where hearts are heavy, people are irritable and life on Highway 66 consists of people with nice cars whizzing by to get to California, and people with battered old broken down cars are stuck in poverty and wishing they could have a better life. So in Chapter 14, Steinbeck has set the stage, and in Chapter 15, the characters step out onto that stage and recite their lines, filling in the blanks from the previous chapter.
Question #2: The style of language used in the novel seems perfectly suited to the times in which the story took place. It is not so realistic that it becomes offensive. The times were desperate and people's lives throughout the areas hardest hit by the Dust Bowl - Kansas, Oklahoma, eastern Colorado and New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle - were hanging by a thread. In addition, the drought was a huge factor that caused people to resort to extreme language reflecting their anger and gloominess. The rainfall average in areas of the Great Plains had been around 20 inches per year, but during much of the 1930s, only half that much rain fell. And temperatures in South Dakota rose as high as 121 degrees during the summer and down to 61 below in the bitter winter season. People already were out of work and short of money and food due to the Great Depression. So Steinbeck is painting an accurate portrait of the way things were.
On page 175 Al wants to get "a couple beers" but…