The Grapes of Wrath Summary and Analysis
Chapter Twenty-Six: One evening, Ma Joad watches Winfield as he sleeps; he writhes as he sleeps, and he seems discolored. In the month that the Joads have been in Weedpatch, Tom has had only five days of work, and the rest of the men have had none. Ma worries because Rose of Sharon is close to delivering her baby. Ma reprimands them for becoming discouraged. She tells them that in such circumstances they don't have the right. Pa fears that they will have to leave Weedpatch. When Tom mentions work in Marysville, Ma decides that they will go there, for despite the accommodations at Weedpatch, they have no opportunity to make money. They plan to go north, where the cotton will soon be ready for harvest. Regarding Ma Joad's forceful control of the family, Pa remarks that women seem to be in control, and it may be time to get out a stick. Ma hears this, and tells him that she is doing her job as wife, but he certainly isn't doing his job as husband. Rose of Sharon complains that if Connie hadn't left they would have had a house by now. Ma pierces Rose of Sharon's ears so that she can wear small gold earrings. Al parts ways with a blonde girl that he has been seeing; she rejects his promises that they will eventually get married. He promises her that he'll return soon, but she does not believe him. Pa remarks that he only notices that he stinks now that he takes regular baths. Before they leave, Willie remarks that the deputies don't bother the residents of Weedpatch because they are united, and that their solution may be a union.
The car starts to break down as the Joads leave Al has let the battery run down but he fixes the problem and they continue on their way. Al is irritable as they leave. He says that he's going out on his own soon to start a family. On the road, they get a flat tire. While Tom fixes the tire, a businessman stops in his car and offers them a job picking peaches forty miles north. They reach the ranch at Pixley where they are to pick oranges for five cents a box. Even the women and children can do the job. Ruthie and Winfield worry about settling down in the area and going to school in California. They assume that everyone will call them Okies. At the nearby grocery store owned by Hooper Ranch, Ma finds that the prices are much higher than they would be at the store in town. The sales clerk lends Ma ten cents for sugar. She tells him that it is only poor people who will help out. That night, Tom goes for a walk, but a deputy tells him to walk back to the cabin at the ranch. The deputy claims that if Tom is alone, the reds will get to him. While continuing on his walk, Tom finds Casy, who has been released from jail. He is with a group of men that are on strike. Casy claims that people who strive for justice always face opposition, citing Lincoln and Washington, as well as the martyrs of the French Revolution. Casy, Tom and the rest of the strikers are confronted by the police. A short, heavy man with a white pick handle swings it at Casy, hitting him in the head. Tom fights with the man, and eventually wrenches the club from him and strikes him with it, killing him. Tom immediately fled the scene, crawling through a stream to get back to the cabin. He cannot sleep that night, and in the morning tells Ma that he has to hide. He tells her that he was spotted, and warns his family that they are breaking the strike they are getting five cents a box only because of this, and today may only get half that amount. When Tom tells Ma that he is going to leave that night, she tells him that they aren't a family anymore: Al cares about nothing more than girls, Uncle John is only dragging along, Pa has lost his place as the head of the family, and the children are becoming unruly. Rose of Sharon screams at Tom for murdering the man she thinks that his sin will doom her baby. After a day of work, Winfield becomes extremely sick from eating peaches. Uncle John tells Tom that when the police catch him, there will be a lynching. Tom insists that he must leave, but Ma insists that they leave as a family. They hide Tom as they leave, taking the back roads to avoid police.
The comfortable situation that the Joads find in Weedpatch must inevitably come to an end, as the Joads realize that they cannot find work in that area. The Joads must then settle for accommodations at the Hooper Ranch, where they no longer have the amenities of the government camp nor the sense of a strong community. The retreat from the strong society of the government camp is reflected in the breakdown of the Joad family. Even Ma Joad realizes that the family is breaking apart, despite her best efforts to keep everybody together. Al has little concern for anybody else, and indicates that he is ready to leave himself. Pa Joad has lost his status as head of the household; he cedes entire control to Ma, the only one strong enough to keep the family together. Pa Joad makes a significant comment about gender roles, lamenting the fact that he no longer runs the family, but Ma makes it clear that the roles have only changed because he no longer fulfills his duties as husband and father. Since Ma is the only Joad who fulfills her obligations to the rest of the family she is the caretaker and moral center she gains the right to make decisions for the rest of the family. This is the major loss that Pa suffers; he no longer has the right to make decisions for the family, and must subordinate himself to his wife.
Yet even Ma Joad is not strong enough to prevent the gradual disintegration of the Joad household. Al appears ready to abandon the Joads next; he is more concerned with finding a girl and a steady job working on cars than with helping his family support themselves. In his dreams of successful, steady employment he resembles the callous Connie. Rose of Sharon in turn descends into a paranoid religious hysteria. She fears for the safety of her child, and holds delusions that the murders her brother has committed will permanently scar the child with sin. This relates to the earlier influence of Lisbeth Sandry, the religious zealot who warned Rose of Sharon against sin. Even the two children begin to noticeably suffer: Winfield becomes sick from deprivation.
The conditions at the Hooper Ranch are worse than those at the government camp, but still more manageable than they could be. The Joads have a roof over their heads and are paid sufficient wages. However, the store owned by the ranch artificially raises prices for items, for it is the only nearby store where the workers can buy groceries, and the wages are high initially only because of a strike. Ma Joad makes the significant observation at the grocery store that it is only the poor who will help out other impoverished people; the clerk at the grocery store will help her, but the owners of the grocery store will exploit the workers through inflated prices.
The strike is the catalyst for another tragedy for the Joad family. When Tom finds the striking workers, he is reunited with Jim Casy, who has been released from jail and found a new purpose as a labor activist. His lost religious zeal has been transformed into working-class activism, charged by his experiences in jail and traveling to California. Casy is a crusader for the cause; the indecision over his role as a preacher earlier in the novel has been replaced by a fiery conviction concerning the justice of his cause. There is a strong political text to the final scenes with Casy, who compares their cause to that of Lincoln, Washington and the patriots of the French revolution. Steinbeck makes it clear that these activists are facing certain doom, but they will be vindicated eventually. Casy, who sacrificed his freedom for Tom earlier in the novel, makes a final sacrifice in this chapter, the victim of a brutal murder at the hands of the police. Casy has now been a martyr for the Joad family and now for the entire class that the Joads represent.
The effect of this martyrdom is that Tom must now leave Hooper ranch to escape capture from the police. Although he wishes to go alone, Ma Joad once again binds the family together. She chooses to risk the safety of the entire family to preserve whatever unity the family has left.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Those who want to pick cotton must first purchase a bag before they can make money. The men who weigh the cotton fix the scales to cheat the workers. The introduction of a cotton-picking machine seems inevitable.
Steinbeck exposes several additional frauds in the farming system. The owners who hire the cotton pickers seem intent on making sure that the pickers receive less compensation than they deserve, and place them in debt initially by making them pay for cotton bags beforehand. The system is made to maximize profit, no matter the cost to the worker. The only solution that the workers have is confrontation: they must stand up to the men who weigh the cotton to ensure that they are paid fairly.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Joads now stay in a boxcar that stood beside the stream, a small home that proved better than anything except for the government camp. They were now picking cotton. Winfield tells Ma that Ruthie told about Tom she got into an argument with some other kids, and told them that her brother was on the run for committing murder. Ruthie returns to Ma, crying that the kids stole her Cracker Jack the reason that she threatened them by telling about Tom but Ma tells her that it was her own fault for showing off her candy to others. That night, in the pitch black, Ma Joad goes out into the woods and finds Tom, who has been hiding out there. She crawls close to him and wants to touch him to remember what he looked like. She wants to give him seven dollars to take the bus and get away. He tells her that he has been thinking about Casy, and remembered how Casy said that he went out into the woods searching for his soul, but only found that he had no individual soul, but rather part of a larger one. Tom has been wondering why people can't work together for their living, and vows to do what Casy had done. He leaves, but promises to return to the family when everything has blown over. As she left, Ma Joad did not cry, but rain began to fall. When she returned to the boxcar, she meets Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright, who have come to talk to the Joads about their daughter, Aggie, who has been spending time with Al. They're worried that the two families will part and then find out that Aggie is pregnant. Ma tells them that she found Tom and that he is gone. Pa laments leaving Oklahoma, while Ma says that women can deal with change better than a man, because women have their lives in their arms, and men have it in their heads. For women, change is more acceptable because it seems inevitable. Al and Aggie return to the boxcar, and they announce that they are getting married. They go out before dawn to pick cotton before everyone else can get the rest, and Rose of Sharon vows to go with them, even though she can barely move. When they get to the place where the cotton is being picked, there are already a number of families. While picking cotton, it suddenly starts to rain, causing Rose of Sharon to fall ill. Everybody assumes that she is about to deliver, but she instead suffers from a chill. They take her back to the boxcar and start a fire to get her warm.
The Joads settle once again into a temporary home this time a boxcar but find their routine disrupted one more time when Ruthie reveals the secret about Tom. Significantly, the cause of her fight with the other children was arrogance; by eating her candy out in the open, she offended the other children who were starving. Tom's decision to leave the family is a bittersweet event, but entirely inevitable. By remaining with the family he endangers them and cannot contribute.
When Tom does decide to leave the Joad family, he does so with a new purpose that is a combination of political and spiritual belief. He accepts Casy's belief that there is no individual soul, but instead a collective soul of which each person only has a part, and vows to continue Casy's struggle for better treatment of the workers. This is a turning point for Tom. He previously consigned himself to individualist action for himself and his family, but now wishes to work for the common good.
It is Ma Joad who bids farewell to Tom, proving once again to be the center of the Joad family. She also demonstrates a change in this chapter; she advises Tom to go alone rather than attempting to keep the family together at all cost. She has realized that family unity is insignificant without the greater society unity for which Tom will strive. Furthermore, even though Tom is the character for whom she has shown the most affection, she finds that she cannot weep over her departure. Rather, at the moment in which she realizes she cannot cry, the rainfall begins, a natural phenomena reflecting her emotional state.
Steinbeck suggests in this chapter that women such as Ma Joad are better equipped to handle change and pain than the men. During the course of the novel, it is the men who have railed against their fate: Uncle John and Connie deserted the family, while Grampa died when he was forced to leave Oklahoma. Ma Joad, in contrast, has accepted the changes she has faced. She explains that women can accept change because for them, it is inevitable. They do not have the illusion that they control their own destinies, unlike men. They thus are less shaken when they are presented with hardship.
The immaturity that Al Joad has displayed throughout the novel takes a more dangerous edge in this chapter. Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright confront the Joads with the possibility that he could get their daughter pregnant, leaving her without support. When the two kids announce their engagement, despite the celebration by the families it is not joyous news, for it Steinbeck contrasts the engagement with the pregnancy of Rose of Sharon, who is ready to deliver her child without her husband or any means of support.
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The migrant families wondered how long the rain would last. The rain damaged cars and penetrated tents. During the rain storms some people went to relief offices, but there were rules: one had to live in California a year before he could collect relief. The greatest terror had arrived no work would be available for three months. Hungry men crowded the alleys to beg for bread; a number of people died. Anger festered, causing sheriffs to swear in new deputies. There would be no work and no food.
The migrant workers must face yet another hardship, this one perhaps the worst of all. With the coming of the rains is the end of the harvest season. The migrant workers face starvation, yet cannot receive any government relief. For Steinbeck, the treatment of these workers is not only inhumane, but below even the treatment of livestock; he makes the point that no farm owner would leave his horse to starve when it was not used. However, the farm owners are doing just that for the migrant labor force.
Chapter Thirty: After three days of rain, the Wainwrights decide that they have to keep on going. They fear that the creek will flood. Rose of Sharon goes into labor, and the Joads cannot leave. Pa Joad and the rest of the man at the camp build up the embankment to prevent flooding, but the water breaks through. Pa, Al and Uncle John rush toward the car, but it cannot start. They reach the boxcar and find that Rose of Sharon delivered a stillborn baby. They realize that the car will eventually flood, and Mr. Wainwright blames Pa Joad for asking them to stay and help, but Mrs. Wainwright offers them help. She tells Ma Joad that it once was the case that family came first. Now they have greater concerns. Uncle John places the dead baby in an apple box and floats it down the flooded stream as Al and build a platform on the top of the car. As the flood waters rise, the family remains on the platform. The family finds a barn for refuge until the rain stops. In the corner of the barn there are a starving man and a boy. Ma and Rose of Sharon realize what she must do. Ma makes everybody leave the barn, while Rose of Sharon gives the dying man her breast milk.
The Joads are caught between two opposing events in this chapter. They face the possibility of flooding from the nearby creek, but cannot leave because Rose of Sharon goes into labor. The one solution to their dilemma depends on community action: the rest of the families must pitch in to build up the embankment, which will stop the flooding. Most selfishly suggest leaving, reasoning that they have no obligation to help Rose of Sharon, while only the Joads help the effort and defend themselves. Without this help, the stream still floods and the family is forced to take shelter on top of their car.
Mrs. Wainwright's comment that there are now greater concerns than family correspond to Steinbeck's collectivist stance in The Grapes of Wrath. This indicates that it has taken such great poverty and hardship for them to realize that the small, isolated groups of families must come together for united action.
The birth of Rose of Sharon's child carries significant symbolic meanings. For Rose of Sharon, the child has represented the possibilities for the future, yet the baby is stillborn. The event has clear parallels to the Joad's journey to California: they faced incredible hardship and pain striving for a better future, yet their sacrifices lead to nothing. The fate of the baby is even a perverse reversal of religious imagery. Uncle John places the dead child in a box and sends it down the river, an obvious allusion to Moses.
The final scene in The Grapes of Wrath is one meant to instill some modicum of hope. The debilitated Rose of Sharon breastfeeds the starving man in the barn to sustain him. She gives what was meant for her baby to a complete stranger, an example of selfless sacrifice for the sake of community instead of individual well-being. Yet it took a deep personal loss, the delivery of a stillborn child, to enable Rose of Sharon to aid the man. She cares for the anonymous man with the same love as she would her child, eschewing her selfish individual concerns for a communal good.
The Grapes of Wrath Essays and Related Content
- The Grapes of Wrath: Essays
- The Grapes of Wrath: Questions
- The Grapes of Wrath: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- John Steinbeck: Biography
- The Grapes of Wrath Summary
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-5
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 6-10
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 21-25
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 26-30
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources