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 appealing features: 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 a chance for work. When the men 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 a decision dictated by the Farmers' Association, which is owned by the Bank of the West. Mr. Thomas also shows them a newspaper, which has a story about a band of citizens who burned a squatters' camp, infuriated by presumed communist agitation; he warns Tom and the other laborers about the dance at the government camp on Saturday night. According to Mr. Thomas, there will be a fight staged at 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 the men 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 are exploring the premises, and are fascinated by the toilets; however, 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, also introduces himself to the Joads and tells them about some of the additional 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 the time comes. Ma remarks that she no longer feels ashamed, as she did when the Joads were constantly being harassed by the police.
Yet there are still sources of contention in the camp. 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 own child. In addition, 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.
Elsewhere, Pa comforts Uncle John, who still wants to leave and remains convinced that he will bring the family punishment. Ma Joad confronts Lisbeth Sandry for frightening Rose and for preaching that every action is sinful. Despite some of the positive developments, Ma becomes depressed about all of her losses -- Granma and Grampa, Noah and Connie -- since she now has leisure time to think about such things.
The government camp proves a sharp interruption to the consistent maladies and hardships that have plagued the Joad family throughout the novel. At this site, 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 a fairly 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 was necessarily her own survival; the most important luxury that Ma Joad discovers at the camp is introspection.
The degree of poverty to which the Joads and other migrant workers have been subjected is further underscored by the amazement that the characters show when they see the simple amenities in the camp. Ruthie and Winfield have never used toilets before, while Jessie Bullitt tells Ma Joad that some camp residents have trouble utilizing 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. This organization controls the state deputies who intimidate the migrant farmers. The Farmers' Association is opposed to treating the migrant workers fairly, for if the workers expect to be treated well they will demand better work and better living conditions. The workers' enemies even plan underhanded tactics to subvert the government camps, for when the workers are secure in government camps they are actually more difficult to control. This chapter explicitly lays out the plan formed by the authorities: 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 look for amusement wherever they can find it, whether in jokes or entertaining stories. They tell stories of heroism in taming the land and dealing with the Indians, or relate the tale of a rich man who pretended to be poor and fell in love with a rich woman who, oddly enough, was also pretending to be poor. The workers find pleasure in playing the harmonica or a more precious guitar or fiddle, or in getting drunk.
This chapter portrays some of the simple details of the life of a migrant worker. These workers look for amusement and diversion, for they require a respite from their hardships. Some of these amusements are not exactly innocent: drunkenness is common because it softens loneliness and pain. It essentially serves as a form of temporary suicide, dulling a man into a drunken stupor and then finally causing him to sleep. Steinbeck even writes that "death was a friend, and sleep was death's brother." While not applicable to Uncle John alone, 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 are going to break up the dance reach 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, he should hit the deputy in a way that doesn't draw blood. The camp members say that the Californians hate them because the migrants might draw relief without paying income taxes, but the migrants themselves quickly refute this idea, claiming that they pay sales a tax and a tobacco tax.
At the dance, Willie Eaton approaches Tom and tells him where to watch for intruders. Tom in fact locates the intruders at the dance, but the intruders begin a fight; the police enter the camp immediately. Huston confronts the police about the intruders, asking who paid them, yet the officers only admit that they have to make money somehow. Once the problem is defused, the dance goes on without any further altercations.
This chapter continues to illustrate how society within Weedpatch functions, showing how information goes from the elected leaders to the camp residents and how the residents maintain order. The interaction between the residents is fair and systematic; the hierarchy that has emerged among the various heads of committees and the residents with fewer responsibilities is one based on mutual respect. The committee leaders do not issue orders; at most, they offer advice and counsel to the less influential residents.
The orderly workings of Weedpatch society are reflected in how the residents react to the intruders during the dance. There is no outbreak of violence, as Steinbeck had earlier foreshadowed. Instead, the committee members deal with the situation calmly, defusing the uproar and refusing to allow the deputies and the intruders at the dance to incite a violent riot.
The rationale that the intruders give for their behavior is one that Steinbeck has frequently rejected as a justification for action. These police officials claim that they accepted the bribes given to start the riot simply in order 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. Individualistic concerns are characterized as selfish and detrimental to the public good, in clear 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 the cultivation of the trees in the orchards is the responsibility of men of understanding, who experiment with the seeds and crops to make them resistant to 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 such wine is good enough to be a drink for the poor. The decay of the fruit spreads over the state. It becomes evident that the men who have created the new fruits cannot create a system whereby the fruits may be eaten. As Steinbeck's narrator argues, there is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation, a sorrow that weeping cannot symbolize. Children must die from pellagra because the orange business cannot be made less profitable.
In this chapter, Steinbeck extends his metaphor of ripening and decay among the elite business class. The wealthy owners have lavished great expense to ensure that the fruits grown on their farms are ripe and healthy, impervious to disease -- yet such tactics are the source of the eventual rot. By accumulating too much and forcing the prices of the fruit too high -- while other people have too little -- the owners ensure that nobody will 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 because their parents cannot afford the fruit. The young are the most direct casualties of the profit margin.
Chapter Twenty-Six: One evening, Ma Joad watches Winfield as he sleeps; he is writhing 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. Despite these troubles, Ma reprimands the rest of the Joads for becoming discouraged. She tells them that in such circumstances they don't have the right, yet 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 pleasant accommodations at Weedpatch the Joads have no substantial opportunities to make money.
Thus, the Joads plan to go north, where the cotton will soon be ready for harvest. Aware of Ma Joad's forceful role within the family, Pa remarks that women seem to be in control and that it may be time to get out a stick. Ma hears this, and tells him that she is doing her job as wife, but that he certainly isn't doing his job as husband. The younger family members also reflect on their relationships: Rose of Sharon complains that if Connie hadn't left the Joads would have had a house by now. 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 the girl does not believe him.) Pa remarks that he only notices that he stinks now that he takes regular baths. Before the Joads leave, Willie remarks that the deputies don't bother the residents of Weedpatch because the residents are united, and a union may be the solution to the laborers' troubles.
The car starts to break down as the Joads leave, since Al has let the battery run down, but he fixes the problem and the Joads continue on their way. Yet Al remains irritable. He says that he's going out on his own soon to start a family. On the road, the car gets a flat tire. While Tom fixes the tire, a businessman stops in his car and offers the family a job picking peaches forty miles north. The Joads reach the ranch at Pixley where they are to pick peaches 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, since they assume that everyone will regard them negatively and call them Okies.
At the nearby grocery store, which is 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 only poor people are willing to 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 and is now with a group of men who 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 flees the scene, crawling through a stream to get back to the family's cabin. He cannot sleep that night, and in the morning tells Ma that he must 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 may get only half that amount once the strike is over. When Tom tells Ma that he is going to leave that night, she tells him that they aren't a family anymore. In her view, 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 then screams at Tom for murdering the man, since she thinks that his sin will doom her baby. In yet another blow to the Joads, 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. The Joads make sure to hide Tom as they leave, taking the back roads to avoid detection by the 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 have neither the amenities of the government camp nor the sense of a strong community. The departure from the unified society of the government camp is reflected in the breakdown of the Joad family. Even Ma Joad realizes that the family is falling apart, despite her best efforts to keep everybody together. Al has little concern for anybody else, and indicates that he is ready to leave. Pa Joad has lost his status as head of the household; he cedes complete control to Ma, the only one strong enough to keep the family in one piece. Pa Joad even makes a significant comment about gender roles, lamenting the fact that he no longer runs the family, though Ma makes it clear that the roles have changed only 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 -- serving as both 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 decide the family's fate, and must accept that he has become his wife's subordinate.
Yet not even Ma Joad is 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 itself. 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. It is possible to trace her ideas to the earlier influence of Lisbeth Sandry, the religious zealot who warned Rose of Sharon against sin. Even the two very young children begin to suffer noticeably: Winfield becomes sick from deprivation.
The conditions at the Hooper Ranch are worse than those at the government camp, but still not as bad as 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 the prices of items -- for it is only at the nearby store that 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 only the poor will help other impoverished people; the clerk at the grocery store will assist her, but the owners of the grocery store will exploit the workers by setting inflated prices.
The strike is the catalyst of another tragedy for the Joad family. Soon after Tom finds the striking workers, he is reunited with Jim Casy, who has been released from jail and has 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 his travels within California. Casy is a crusader for the cause of the workers; the indecision over his role as a preacher earlier in the novel has been replaced by a fiery conviction concerning the justice of laborers' rights. There are strong political overtones to the final scenes with Casy, who compares the cause of labor to the missions of Lincoln, Washington, and the patriots of the French Revolution. Steinbeck makes it clear that the labor activists are facing certain doom, but that 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 both the Joad family and the entire class that the Joads represent.
The effect of this martyrdom is that Tom must now leave Hooper ranch to escape capture by the police. Although he wishes to go alone, Ma Joad once again binds the Joad family together. She chooses to risk the safety of the entire family to preserve whatever unity the family has left.