The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

During the night, Tom drives the Joad truck into the government camp, which is called the Weedpatch. The watchman tells the Joads that the camp has an empty unit, so they can stay. After Tom parks the truck, Tom and Pa sign up at the office. The watchman tells Tom that the police are not allowed in this camp without a warrant. As Tom walks to his family's unit, he notices that the camp looks neat and clean.

Early the next morning, Tom wakes up before the rest of his family and makes friends with the family next door. They offer Tom breakfast, and the father and son ask if Tom wants to work with them. Tom eagerly accepts. Tom and his two friends, Timothy and Wilkie, walk to their job, which involves laying pipe. The boss tells them he has to lower their wages because the association he belongs to has told him to. The men reluctantly agree to work for 25 cents an hour. Also, the boss warns that deputies are planning to bust up the camp's dance on Saturday night. Meanwhile, the rest of the Joad family wakes up. Ma learns that the Ladies' Committee is coming to visit. Anxious to show give a good impression, she orders Rose of Sharon to put on a nice dress and for Pa to clean Ruthie and Winfield. As Ma hurriedly cooks breakfast, the friendly camp manager visits her. After breakfast, Pa, Uncle John, and Al get in the truck and head out to look for work.

Ma goes to the showers to wash herself. When she is gone, a female religious fanatic talks to Rose of Sharon about all the sin in the camp. She terrifies Rose of Sharon by telling her that she'll have a miscarriage if she sins. After the woman leaves, Rose of Sharon tells Ma what the fanatic said. Ma orders her daughter to "stop pickin' at yourself." The Ladies' Committee visits and gives Ma a tour of the camp, explaining various regulations. Ma is impressed by the niceness of the ladies and the camp.

Ruthie and Winfield see children playing croquet. Ruthie wants to play immediately, but the children tell her she has to wait until the game is over. Ruthie refuses and selfishly grabs a mallet. The children all back away, including Winfield, and watch Ruthie as she tries to entertain herself hitting the croquet ball. Soon Ruthie feels uncomfortable and tells the other kids to play. The group just looks at her. Ruthie flings down the mallet and runs home crying.

Unable to find work, the dejected men drive back to camp. Ma confronts the religious fanatic and tells her to leave her family alone, causing the woman to have a hysterical fit. After the fanatic is carried away, Ma tries to comfort Rose of Sharon about her fear of having a miscarriage. Rose of Sharon, though, remains terrified by what the fanatic told her. Pa tells Ma that he couldn't find work, which worries Ma and makes her sad. They talk about the family breaking up and try to find comfort by reminiscing about the home they left.

Analysis

In this chapter, Steinbeck focuses on the theme of the human community through the specific example of the Weedpatch camp. This camp is a self-contained community. Like the makeshift communities along the roadside, the camp governs itself, making its own regulations. The watchman states, "Central Committee keeps order an' makes rules." The people in the camp elect the committee members. People who can't afford to pay the camp fee are allowed to "work it out." The camp even sponsors dances on Saturday nights. Cops are not allowed in the camp without a warrant.

Through cooperation and unity, the self-contained community works very well. Ironically, living conditions are better and more orderly for migrants without the interference of the police and established society. The principle of the mutual good is used as a guide for the camp. For example, when Ruthie wants to play croquet immediately, the children use the pressure of the group to show Ruthie how selfish she is acting. The unity of the community and the mutual good of the group are used to govern.

As the Ruthie example shows, selfishness can pose a threat to the community. However, unlike the children playing croquet, the selfishness of the landowners is more difficult to overcome. Tom and his friends are faced with an example of this when their boss tells them he has to lower their wage.

However, in this chapter, Steinbeck introduces another threat to the community, namely religious fanaticism. The religious fanatic, Lisbeth Sandry, scares Rose of Sharon half to death when she warns her about having a miscarriage if she sins. Through the depiction of Lisbeth, Steinbeck shows how she tries to stir up trouble within the camp, pitting the holy people against the sinners. Also, the author hints that religious fanaticism is used to keep the migrants under control. Lisbeth tells the camp manager that two migrant women lost their babies because of their sins. The manager counters that malnutrition caused the miscarriages. Later, Lisbeth quotes her preacher in saying, "They's wicketness in this camp. ... The poor tryin' to be rich." Religious fanatics thus attempt to control the migrants by having them blame themselves for their misfortunes and by telling them that they should remain in their place and stay poor.

Near the end of the chapter, Steinbeck indicates that staying at the Weedpatch is based on whether it's members can find work. During their first day, Pa has difficulty getting employment. This situation may continue. The safety and comfort of this community, therefore, are precarious and can easily evaporate if the members have to leave because they can't earn money. Ma says they could be happy at the Weedpatch camp, and Pa replies, "If we could get work."

So far in the novel, Steinbeck has focused on the migrants searching for work and food. In this chapter, the author stresses that they are also searching for something more, namely a home. The niceness of the camp and its people causes Ma to think more about getting a home. "Soon's we can," she says, "I want a little house." Near the end of the chapter, she remembers what it was like back at the home they left and feels sad when she reflects on the fact that "it ain't our home no more." She adds, "Wisht I'd forget it," but she can't.

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