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The Grapes of Wrath | Study Guide

John Steinbeck

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Chapter 28

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 28 of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 28 | Summary



Some cotton pickers in California live in boxcars, with two families in each car. The Joads live in one end of a boxcar. Soon all the boxcars are filled; latecomers live in tents. The Joads buy goods at a nearby store. They have gotten paid enough to buy pork chops and milk for Rose of Sharon but worry about saving enough for winter. Ma buys Ruthie and Winfield each a box of Cracker Jack. Back at the boxcar, Winfield tells Ma that Ruthie got in a fight with other kids and, in anger, told about Tom killing two men and hiding out. Ma tells Pa about this and then brings food to Tom in the willows.

Tom takes the food and brings Ma to a dark cave. There, Ma lets Tom know that Ruthie told the secret. He seems amused. They agree that Tom has to leave. Tom has been doing a lot of thinking about Casy while hiding out. He has come to understand what Casy meant when he was talking about people all being part of one big soul. Ma fears that she'll lose touch with Tom, which causes Tom to consoles her by saying that he'll be with her through other people. They say good-bye.

As Ma walks back to camp, a man offers her and her family work picking cotton at a little farm, which she accepts. The Joads share their boxcar with the Wainwright family. Mr. Wainwright tells Ma that because Al and his daughter, Aggie, have been going out together, he would like them to get married. Ma tells Pa and Uncle John that Tom is leaving. Then Al says he wants to marry Aggie and leave the family to work as a mechanic. Ma thinks Al's plans are fine but tells him not to leave yet. Early the next morning, the Joads and Wainwrights head in the Joad truck toward the small cotton farm. Rose of Sharon says she's going to pick cotton as well, despite her mother's reservations. When they arrive at the farm, the parking lot is already filled with migrants in vehicles waiting to go to work. Because of the many workers, the cotton is picked by 11 a.m. As the Joads drive back to camp, rain starts to fall. Rose of Sharon gets the chills. By the time they reach the boxcar, the rain is pouring. Ma and Mrs. Wainwright start a fire and try to warm up Rose of Sharon. The men gather more firewood. The rain continues to pour on the roofs of the boxcars.


In Chapter 28, Steinbeck completes Tom's character development. Early in the novel, Tom starts out as an outsider who gets angry when pushed around. He doesn't like to think about affairs beyond his immediate day-to-day activities. However, through his friendship with Casy, Tom is exposed to questions about why things are the way they are. At first, this annoys Tom. However, gradually, Tom begins to realize the unfairness of the landowning system. He also starts to use his leadership skills with his family. After Casy dies, Tom hides out. The time alone allows Tom to think more fully about Casy's ideas. For Steinbeck, spending time in seclusion enables a person to gather his or her thoughts and, thereby, gain important insights. For example, Casy gained understanding when he spent time in jail. In fact, Casy compares this experience to "goin' into the wilderness like Jesus to try find out sompin." Tom hiding in the cave is his wilderness experience, bringing him to an important realization.

Tom understands that each person is part of one big soul, like Casy said. Although the wilderness can be helpful, a person should not stay there, because it cuts him off from other people. He realizes two or more people working together will be stronger and more effective. Tom becomes inspired to help people join together and improve their lives. He then consoles his mother by telling her, "Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there." He goes on to give a now famous speech that sums up Steinbeck's view of humanity. For Steinbeck, people are all united spiritually. What harms one person harms others. "Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there," Tom continues. And what helps one person, helps others, as Tom says in a more hopeful vow: "I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready."

The human community also has an essential relationship with the land, a view Tom expresses with the words, "An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise ... why, I'll be there." Selfish actions by landowners, such as mass farming techniques, cut people off from the land. However, when people in family communities work the land, they form a more organic relationship with it. Thus, for Steinbeck, people and their environment are interconnected. Because of this, people should treat these relationships in a loving manner for the benefit of all.

Also, in Chapter 28, Steinbeck continues to emphasize Ma's combination of tough leadership and kindness to keep the family together. The author implies that women, in way, are better suited for leading people through hardships. Ma reflects, "Woman, it's all one flow, like a stream." Because of this trait, women can help humankind to persevere. "Jus' try to live the day, jus' the day." This sentiment by Ma harkens back to the symbol of the land turtle. The turtle has a narrow view as it plods along on its steady path. Some people, like Casy and Tom, think beyond this path and try to find ways to help humankind. However, others, like Ma, have a gift for focusing on daily events, which allows them to continue on. This focus can act like a hard shell, protecting them and their loved ones as they steadily head down the path, one step at a time.

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