As his father lies dying, Joseph Wayne decides to trade his Vermont farm for a new life in California. Once established on his ranch, he comes to revere a huge tree as the embodiment of his father's spirit.
Joseph's brothers and their wives join him, and their farms prosper. Then one of the brothers, repelled by Joseph's reverence for the tree, cuts it down. Consequences follow -- harsh and severe.
In TO A GOD UNKNOWN, one of his earliest novels, Steinbeck uses the Western American experience as a way of exploring man's relationships to his environment -- a theme that would come to characterize much of his later work.