Chapter Twenty-Two: The Joads reach the government camp, where they are surprised to find that there are toilets and showers and running water. The watchman at the camp explains some of the other features of the camp: there is a central committee elected by the camp residents that keeps order and makes rules, and the camp even holds dance nights. The next morning, two camp residents (Timothy and Wilkie Wallace) give Tom breakfast and tell him about work. When they reach the fields where they are to work, Mr. Thomas, the contractor, tells them that he is reducing wages from thirty to twenty-five cents per hour. It is not his choice, but rather orders from the Farmers' Association, which is owned by the Bank of the West. Thomas also shows them a newspaper, which has a story about a band of citizens who burn a squatters' camp, infuriated by presumed communist agitation, and warns them about the dance at the government camp on Saturday night. There will be a fight in the camp so that the deputies can go in. The Farmers' Association dislikes the government camps because the people in the camps become used to being treated humanely and are thus harder to handle. Tom and the Wallaces vow to make sure that there won't be a fight.
While they work, Wilkie tells Tom that the complaints about agitators are false. According to the rich owners, any person who wants thirty cents an hour instead of twenty-five is a red. Back at the camp, Ruthie and Winfield explore the camp, and are fascinated by the toilets they are frightened by the flushing sound. Ma Joad makes the rest of the family clean themselves up before the Ladies Committee comes to visit her. Jim Rawley, the camp manager, introduces himself to the Joads and tells them some of the features of the camp. Rose of Sharon goes to take a bath, and learns that a nurse visits the camp every week and can help her deliver the baby when it is time. Ma remarks that she no longer feels ashamed, as she had when they were constantly harassed by the police. Lisbeth Sandry, a religious zealot, speaks with Rose of Sharon about the alleged sin that goes on during the dances, and complains about people putting on stage plays, which she calls sin and delusion and devil stuff.' The woman even blames playacting for a mother dropping her child. Rose of Sharon becomes frightened upon hearing this, fearing that she will drop her child. Jessie Bullitt, the head of the Ladies Committee, gives Ma Joad a tour of the camp and explains some of the problems. Jessie bickers with Ella Summers, the previous committee head. The children play and bicker. Pa comforts Uncle John, who still wants to leave, thinking that he will bring the family punishment. Ma Joad confronts Lisbeth Sandry for frightening Rose and for preaching that every action is sinful. Ma becomes depressed about all of the losses Granma and Grampa, Noah and Connie because she now has leisure time to think about such things.
The government camp proves a shocking interruption to the consistent maladies and hardships that have plagued the Joad family throughout the novel. The people are polite and well-mannered toward the Joads. Ma Joad is even shocked to hear Jim Rawley call her "Mrs." The few problems in Weedpatch, such as the theft of toilet paper, are handled in a fair and organized manner. The camp represents a communal society in which everyone has an equal share and an equal voice. While not a perfect place, as shown by the unwelcome proselytizing of Lisbeth Sandry, the government camp nevertheless is a comfortable community where the Joads can live respectably.
The degree of comfort that Weedpatch affords is reflected in the return to a normal rhythm that occurs among the Joads. Ruthie and Winfield can play like small children once again. Uncle John settles into his manageable routine of depression. The impressionable Rose of Sharon begins to fret about her child; without Connie she no longer dreams of a middle-class life, but instead focuses on the immediate fate of her soon-to-be-born child. Ma Joad even realizes how great an interruption the journey to California was. For the first time, she can comprehend the losses that the family has suffered and mourn the two deaths and two desertions. Before reaching the camp, her only concern had to be her own survival; the most important luxury that Ma Joad receives at the camp is introspection.
The degree of poverty to which the Joads and other migrant workers are subjected is further reflected by the amazement that the characters show to the simple amenities in the camp. Ruthie and Winfield have never used a toilet before, while Jessie Bullitt tells Ma Joad how some camp residents have trouble with some of the camp's appliances.
Once again the banking elite causes needless hardship for the migrant workers. The Farmers' Association that the banks control dictates that wages be reduced. It becomes clear that the Farmers' Association is responsible for most of the hardship and oppression. They control the state deputies who intimidate the migrant farmers. The Farmers' Association is opposed to treating the migrant workers fairly, for if they expect to be treated well they will demand more. They even plan underhanded tactics to subvert the government camps, for when the workers are in government camps they are more difficult to control. This chapter explicitly states their plan: to sabotage the government camp they will instigate a fight that will allow the deputies to enter and disrupt Weedpatch.
Chapter Twenty-Three: The migrant workers looked for amusement wherever they could find it, whether in jokes or stories for amusement. They told stories of heroism in taming the land against the Indians, or about a rich man who pretended to be poor and fell in love with a rich woman who was also pretending to be poor. The workers took small pleasures in playing the harmonica or a more precious guitar or fiddle, or even in getting drunk.
This chapter demonstrates some of the simple details of the life of a migrant worker. These workers looked for amusement and diversion, for it proved a respite for their hardships. Some of these amusements are less innocent: drunkenness was common, for it softened loneliness and pain. It essentially serves as a form of suicide, dulling the man into a drunken stupor and then finally sleep. Steinbeck even writes that "death was a friend, and sleep was death's brother.' While not specifically describing Uncle John, this description of drunkenness does seem to fit with the character's depression and does give some explanation for his behavior in previous chapters.
Chapter Twenty-Four: The rumors that the police were going to break up the dance reached the camp. According to Ezra Huston, the chairman of the Central Committee, this is a frequent tactic that the police use. Huston tells Willie Eaton, the head of the entertainment committee, that if he must hit a deputy, do so where they won't bleed. The camp members say that the Californians hate them because the migrants might draw relief without paying income tax, but they refute this, claiming that they pay sales tax and tobacco tax. At the dance, Willie Eaton approaches Tom and tells him where to watch for intruders. Ma comforts Rose of Sharon, who is depressed about Connie. Tom finds the intruders at the dance, but the intruders begin a fight and immediately the police enter the camp. Huston confronts the police about the intruders, asking who paid them. They only admit that they have to make money somehow. Once the problem is defused, the dance goes on without any problems.
This chapter continues to illustrate the society within Weedpatch, showing how information goes from the elected leaders to the camp residents and how they maintain order. The interaction between the residents is fair and orderly; the hierarchy that has emerged among the various heads of committees and residents is one based on mutual respect. The committee leaders do not issue orders; at most, they offer advice and counsel to the residents.
The orderly workings of Weedpatch society are reflected in the manner in which they deal with the intruders during the dance. There is no outbreak of violence, as Steinbeck had earlier foreshadowed. The committee members deal with the situation calmly, defusing the situation and refusing to allow the deputies and the intruders at the dance to instigate a violent riot.
The rationale that the intruders give for their behavior is one that Steinbeck has frequently rejected as a justification for action. They claim that they accepted the bribes given to start the riot simply to support themselves. This motive of self-interest has frequently been rejected by Steinbeck as untenable, whether used by a tractor driver or a small business owner. Individualist concerns are characterized as selfish and detrimental to the public good, in contrast to selfless collective behavior. The intruders are the most extreme example of this selfish attitude.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Spring is beautiful in California, for behind the fruitfulness of the trees in the orchards are men of understanding who experiment with the seeds and crops to defend them against insects and disease. Yet the fruits become rotten and soft. The rotten grapes are still used for wine, even if contaminated with mildew and formic acid. The rationale is that it is good enough for the poor to get drunk. The decay of the fruit spreads over the state. The men who have created the new fruits cannot create a system whereby the fruits may be eaten. There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation, a sorrow that weeping cannot symbolize. Children must die from pellagra because the profit cannot be taken from an orange.
In this chapter, Steinbeck extends his metaphor of ripening and decay among the elite business class. The wealthy owners lavished great expense to ensure that the fruits grown on their farms were ripe and healthy, impervious to disease, yet were the engineers of the eventual rot. By accumulating too much and forcing the prices of the fruit too high when others had too little, they ensured that nobody would be able to buy the fruit. They have engineered their own demise. Yet there are more important victims in this tragedy. Children die from disease, for their parents cannot afford the fruit. They are literal victims of the profit margin.
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.