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The Grapes of Wrath | Chapter 30 | Summary

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Summary

A rainstorm hits the boxcar camp and continues for three days. The Joads and Wainwrights argue about whether to move away from the boxcars. Pa wants to stay and build a bank to prevent a nearby stream from overflowing. Al claims he's staying with Aggie no matter what. Rose of Sharon goes into labor. Pa and other men in the camp start to build up an embankment. Ma and Mrs. Wainwright help Rose of Sharon, walking her between the pains. The men furiously keep building the bank higher and higher. They become exhausted and continue to work. A cottonwood tree is uprooted, flows down the stream, and breaks the embankment. Water floods through the break into the boxcar camp.

Al tries to start the truck, but it won't catch. Pa asks about Rose of Sharon, who is sleeping. Mrs. Wainwright shows Pa a "blue shriveled little mummy" in an apple box, which is Rose of Sharon's stillborn infant. The rain lets up, but the water keeps rising, causing the Joads to hurriedly build platforms in the boxcar. If needed, the Joads will place belongings on the platforms to keep them dry. Uncle John carries the stillborn corpse in the apple box to a stream, sets it in the water, and watches the box float down the stream. The water rises close to the floor of the boxcar. Rose of Sharon wakes up and Ma tells her, "You can have more." The rain starts again. The Joads place possessions on the platforms as water starts to enter the boxcar.

The Joads are huddled on the platforms with their belongings. Even though the rain has become intermittent, the water is six inches deep in the boxcar. Ma and Rose of Sharon decide to leave the boxcar with Ruthie and Winfield and head for higher ground. The men at first resist but then decide to go along, except for Al, who stays with Aggie. Pa carries Rose of Sharon, Uncle John carries Ruthie, and Ma carries Winfield as they wade through the water to the highway. The family then trudges toward a barn on a hill. As the rain starts to pour again, the Joads enter the barn. Soon Winfield spots a boy and man in the corner. The boy says that the man is his father and that he's starving. An understanding passes between Ma and Rose of Sharon about what needs to be done. Ma helps Rose of Sharon take off her wet clothes and wraps a blanket around her. The family and boy leave Rose of Sharon alone with the starving man. She lays down beside him and starts to breastfeed the man. The novel closes with the words, "She looked up across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously."

Analysis

In the final chapter, Steinbeck depicts the hardships for the Joad family and how this leads to the forming of a larger community of humanity in the face of ongoing trouble and endless tragedy. This process is achieved through the kindness and caring of people for one another. When Rose of Sharon has labor pains, Mrs. Wainwright assists in delivery as if Rose of Sharon is a part of her own family. After the birth, Ma thanks Mrs. Wainwright. She replies that there is no need to thank her, as "ever'body's in the same wagon." Ma acknowledges her agreement, saying, "Use'ta be the fambly was fust. It ain't so now. It's anybody." As things get worse for the migrants, they help one another more.

The process of forming the larger community of humanity happens even when the Joad family breaks up. When the Joads finally evacuate the boxcar, the Wainwrights stay behind, and Al stays with them. The Joad family now consists only of Pa, Ma, Uncle John, Rose of Sharon, Ruthie, and Winfield. During the story, Grampa, Granma, Noah, the Wilsons, Connie, Casy, Tom, and Al all leave in various ways. The remnants of the Joad family, without food or money, trudge to the barn. Despite their desperate condition, Ma and Rose of Sharon recognize the need of the starving man and realize a way to help. Once again, difficult circumstances draw the migrant people together through kindness and caring. Rose of Sharon breastfeeds the man. In this way, the starving man and his boy join the Joads in the community of humanity. They are all one large family. This sense of caring comes from the very nature of humans. Rose of Sharon has the milk within her to feed the man. Despite the constant hardships and injustice that people face, people have in their nature what they need to survive. However, by ending the novel with the Joads in a desperate situation, Steinbeck also indicates that the cycle of misery that the Joads and other migrants face continues on.

Steinbeck also uses a major symbol in this chapter. When Uncle John places the stillborn infant in the apple box, the author is making a reference to the biblical story of the infant Moses being cast off in a papyrus basket in a river. In The Grapes of Wrath, the dead infant in the apple box shows the hardships and horror that the migrants are dealing with. Uncle John tells the dead baby in the apple box to "go down in the street an' rot an' tell 'em that way." He wants it to be a sign to the townspeople that he hopes will bring mercy and rescue for his family and their fellow migrants.

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