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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 29 | Summary

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Summary

The gray clouds march in and settle low, and then the rain comes. At first, the dry earth absorbs the moisture, but then puddles form. Streams overflow uprooting trees, fields flood forming lakes, and highways wash out, bogging down cars. At first, the migrants hope the rains won't last. The men build makeshift dikes to protect their tents, but the dikes wash out and water soaks into beds and blankets. When the migrants try to move, their cars get stuck in the mud. People wade through the water, carrying children. The migrants try to get relief from the government, but they don't qualify because they haven't lived in California for a year. Because of the unsanitary conditions, diseases spread through the migrant camps.

The migrants know there will be no work for at least three months. They begin to beg for food. The pity of townspeople for the migrants changes to anger and then to fear. The police swear in deputies and try to control the starving people. Women "pant[ing] with pneumonia" give birth to babies. Frantic men steal chickens, and some are shot in the process. The rain stops. The migrant men are silent, troubled by the fact that there is "no work till spring." The women fear that their men will break. But they see their men get angry and are relieved.

Analysis

Steinbeck returns to the theme of anger being used as a weapon against oppression. The author conveys the various disasters that migrants face because of the flooding. In these descriptions, Steinbeck intersperses statements about the building anger of the migrants. For example, after begging for food, "a hopeless anger began to smolder" in the migrants. When the migrants huddle in sheds, lying in wet hay, "fear [breeds] anger." The migrants' anger is counterbalanced by the anger of the townspeople, who fear being overwhelmed by frantic, starving people. Deputies are deployed with rifles and tear gas to control the migrants. However, after a rabble of migrants is suppressed, the townspeople can most likely take solace in the comfort of their homes. The migrants, though, have nothing to give them solace. When the rains stop, they are still hungry and have no work. The migrant women fear that this desperate situation will break their men. However, the men gather together and "the fear [goes] from their faces, and anger [takes] its place." By forming a community, the men get in touch with their wrath. As a result, their women are relieved, because "the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath." Steinbeck ends the chapter by describing grass coming through the earth—a symbol of hope.

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