In chapter 10, Tom Joad explains a personal meaning of what preaching is to the preacher Casy and I don't understand it.

”That's preachin'. Doin' good to a fella that's down an' can't smack ya in the puss for it. No, you ain't no preacher. But don't you blow no cornets aroun' here".

Could someone explain what this means?

  • 5
    No. You've left out the immediate context. That refers to what just happened, and especially to what was just said, and by whom. Sentences don't mean anything out of context. Commented May 28, 2018 at 14:52
  • 2
    Also, you have quoted four sentences. Is the problem with one of them, or all of them? Are there particular words that are a problem?
    – user184130
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 21:10
  • I apologize for my vagueness. I don’t get the entire passage.
    – John
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 4:31

2 Answers 2


Steinbeck was critical of the Salvation Army and its take on Christianity. Sure, they helped people, but they forced those they helped to step into the world of the Salvation Army in order to get that help. In Tom's case, he was forced to sit and listen to the Salvation Army play small trumpets (cornets) for hours and hours for the inmates in exchange for the Salvation Army's help. And it was very much a transactional relationship: if he would have walked out of the concert, he would have been in trouble.

Casy, in contrast, enters the world of the people he's trying to help. He doesn't put up barriers to entry, doesn't set himself apart from the sinners in the dirt. He asks questions of those he serves, not just proclaim judgment from a book. In short, he has humility as a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. Tom doesn't see Casy becoming like a preacher as Tom knows them. But just to be sure, he's suggesting Casy not start setting himself apart and making proclamations from on high, symbolic of the forced concert.


google books More text with revealing context.

Tom to Casey with the blow no cornets sentence: Tom (Steinbeck?), a critic of Christian charity as practiced by the Salvation Army, tell Casey his comments are noted but don't get all 'Salvation Army' like.

salvation army cornet

SA Parade

  • 1
    I'm somewhat on the fence about this answer. On one hand, it adequately explains what the quote really means in simple terms. On the other, it's not as detailed as I'd expect. What exactly does "can't smack ya in the puss for it" mean? What does that have to do with "Doin' good to a fella that's down"? Why did Tom say "No, you ain't no preacher."? Those are questions I assume OP must have had, and must have expected a satisfactory answer to. No vote from me for now.
    – VTH
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 13:53

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