The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 26 | Summary

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Summary

At the Weedpatch camp, Ma leads a family meeting in which family members talk about the lack of work and running out of money and food. The family decides to leave the camp to search for work. Rose of Sharon tells Ma she's worried about not getting enough milk for the baby she's carrying. Ma pierces her ears to mollify her. Al says good-bye to a blonde-haired girl with promises of coming back and marrying her. Uncle John and Pa say good-bye to Huston, and Tom says good-bye to Willie and Jule.

The next morning, the Joads head in their truck out of the camp and onto Highway 99 and drive north. Soon they get a flat tire. While fixing it, a well-dressed man pulls up in a roadster and asks the Joads if they want work. Tom says they sure do and agrees to picking peaches. The Joads fix the tire and drive to Hooper Ranch. As they approach, they notice a roadblock and numerous police. A patrolman makes sure the Joads want to work and then tells them to follow cops on motorcycles to the ranch. They pass by a bunch of angry men yelling and shaking their fists. The situation makes the Joads uneasy.

At the ranch, the Joads are assigned one of many basic shacks, where "the floor [is] splashed with grease." The shack contains a rusty stove and nothing else. The men start picking peaches for five cents a box. They have to pick slowly to make sure they don't bruise the fruit. Later, Ma and Ruthie and Winfield help out. When they earn a dollar of credit, Ma heads to the company store. The prices for food are high. She spends the entire dollar credit on food for dinner. The Joads eat a skimpy dinner. Tom says he's going to find out what's going on with those angry men they passed by.

During the night, Tom sneaks out of the ranch and approaches a tent with a light at the bottom of a ravine. There Tom reunites with Casy and learns that he is leading a strike against Hooper ranch. The ranch owner has been offering five cents for a box of peaches, but when he gets enough workers, he lowers the price to two-and-a-half cents, and "a fella can't even eat on that." The police, using flashlights, raid the camp of strikers. A man hits Casy with a pick handle, smashing in his head. Casay lies on the ground, lifeless. Enraged, Tom grabs the pick handle away from the man and hits him hard with it. The man falls unconscious to the ground. Mayhem ensues. As police chase strikers, Tom is hit in the head by a club. Injured, he runs back to the ranch and enters the hut where the Joads are living. Everyone is asleep.

The next morning, the Joads find Tom with a bloody and bruised face. Tom tells them what happened. Ma decides the family has to move away. News spreads in the ranch about a policeman being killed during a raid the previous night. Tom says he has to leave the family because the police will be looking for him. Ma disagrees and decides to hide Tom in the truck. The Joads load up the truck with Tom hidden in back between two mattresses. With Al driving the truck, the Joads get out of the ranch and head north on side roads. They stop by a sign that says "Cotton Pickers Wanted." Tom tells his family to get work picking cotton. Meanwhile, he'll hide in the brush until his face is healed, at which point he'll rejoin his family. The Joads agree with the plan, and Tom disappears into the night.

Analysis

In Chapter 26, Steinbeck relates the three major themes of the novel: Individual versus Community, Selfishness versus Kindness, and Meekness versus Wrath. Throughout the chapter, various elements threaten to break apart the community of the Joad family. Al keeps threatening to the leave the family and gets a job as a mechanic. Rose of Sharon becomes panicky because she's not getting enough nutrition for the baby she's carrying. As a result, she yells at Tom for killing the cop and says that his sin is going to ruin her pregnancy. Her attitude threatens to push Tom away from the family. In addition, Tom knows the police will be looking for him and doesn't want to bring trouble to his family, so he plans to leave. To counteract these forces pulling at the family, Ma further solidifies her role as the family leader. At the beginning of the chapter, she yells at her husband and the other men for not finding work and says they have to do something. Pa remarks, "Seems like women is tellin' now." Later, she organizes the Joad's getaway from the Hooper ranch, with Tom hiding in the back of the truck. Despite the dangerous situation, the family stays together.

Also, Steinbeck shows how kindness is used to keep the Joad family together. When Rose of Sharon gets upset about her pregnancy, Ma makes her feel special by piercing her ears. This attention seems to calm her. When Winfield gets the skitters, Ma makes sure he gets the milk he needs to calm his intestines. And when she finds out that Tom killed a man, she does not scold him and instead offers understanding.

On a larger scale, Steinbeck analyzes the dynamics of community with the strikers who have formed a protest against Hooper ranch. Selfishness threatens these strikers. However, this selfishness does not only apply to the ranch owner cutting wages and using police to break up the strike; it also applies to the migrants themselves. When Tom visits Casy in the tent, Tom says that at least his family is getting work and has eaten dinner tonight. Because of this, he says, Pa will not likely agree to join the strikers. Casy replies, "I guess that' right. Have to take a beatin' 'fore he'll know."

Once again, kindness can overcome the need to look out for one's self no matter how that affects others. This idea is shown clearly when Ma buys food at the company store. She is upset by the unreasonably high prices for food. At first, the store clerk is defensive. When Ma asks him how he likes working at a job that cheats people, he replies, "A fella got to eat." Later, though, when she asks for a little sugar to be paid for later, the clerk pays the dime for the sugar himself. He says that she can pay him back. Ma thanks him and reflects, "If you're in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people." For Steinbeck, kindness and sympathy between poor people is the glue that can bind them together to fight against oppression.

Anger is another element that unites the human community and spurs it into action. Ma comments on this in reference to her husband. She says that a man can worry and worry about things, but "if you can take an' make 'im mad ... he'll be awright." Later, the migrants get angry enough to join together and go on strike. Tom sees the strikers by the side of road and notices "their shaking fists and furious faces." Also, Tom gets enraged at the man who killed Casy and clubs him to death. This expression of anger can be seen as a negative action. Tom has not yet learned to harness his fury, so he lashes out. His action upsets the powers that be but isn't used for the common good. In contrast, Steinbeck strengthens Casy as a Christ figure by having him give up his life for the good of the human community, thereby making a selfless sacrifice.

Steinbeck also shows that when the migrants practice meekness, they become pawns in the hands of the powerful landowners. Because of their need for food, migrants flock into Hooper ranch, which allows the owner to cut wages and make more profit. Meekness preserves the unfair status quo and inhibits change that will benefit the majority.

Finally, in Chapter 26, Steinbeck emphasizes how the Joads and other migrants are caught in a repetitive pattern. Once again they have difficulty finding steady work, have conflicts with authority figures, are exploited by landowners, and are forced to move. Such was the case in Oklahoma and in parts of California during this era. Because of this, themes keep repeating themselves, namely the selfishness of landowners versus the kindness of common people, the needs of the individual versus the needs of the community, and how constant exploitation can lead to outbursts of wrath.

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