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Free Study Guide: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Free BookNotes

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THE GRAPES OF WRATH: PLOT ANALYSIS / LITERARY CRITICISM

CHAPTER 21

Summary

The migrants are no longer tied to the land and their agricultural way of life; now they scamper about throughout the West as they search for work. Although dispersed, the migrants are also united; the universal hostility of the Californians welds them into a oneness. Then, the landowners begin to fear "the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants;" they unite against the migrants. At cross purposes, conflict grows inevitable. The large companies and banks are creating their own doom.

Large owners also buy the canneries. When the peaches and pears ripen, they force down the price of the fresh fruit and take their profit on the tinned fruit. This bankrupts more of the smaller farmers, and they are also forced onto the highway seeking work. The migrants grow ravenous and murderous for work. They have been pushed across the line.

Notes


This chapter is similar to chapter19, in its portrayal of the pattern of land ownership in California. The migrants from the South are not the only exploited people. The smaller landowners are also at the mercy of the big landowners, who employ monopoly tactics and soon bankrupt them. The chapter reinforces the proposition that repression and authoritarian measures are counter-productive and do not accomplish anything. Trouble seems inevitable.


CHAPTER 22

Summary

The Joads drive in search of the Weedpatch camp. When they arrive, they are lucky to find a place, which has just been vacated by a family. They can hardly believe their ears when the watchman tells them that the camp is run by the migrants themselves and there are no cops around. He also tells them that the camp committee will call on them in the morning. The Central Committee keeps order and makes rules. A Ladies Committee will call on Ma Joad as well.

Tom wakes early the next morning while the camp is still sleeping. He wanders around and meets the Wallaces, who invite him to have breakfast with them. They tell Tom that they have been working for twelve days and take him to work along with them, even though they know that his presence will mean less work for them. They walk to work because they had to sell their car for ten dollars; they later saw the car on sale in the same lot for seventy-five. Timothy Wallace says that the job will not last a long time. Mr. Thomas, the employer who is sympathetic to the migrants, must reduce their wages from thirty to twenty-five cents an hour because the bank threatened to refuse further loans unless he did this. He is forced to comply with the wishes of the bank because his land is mortgaged. He then warns them that some men are planning to create trouble at the Weedpatch Saturday dance; then the Deputies will have the excuse to raid the camp and close it on grounds of rioting. The Wallaces tell Tom that the Californians are afraid that the migrants will organize themselves; the owners already call people demanding higher wages "reds." In Tomís mind, this makes all migrants "reds," including himself.

Ruthie and Winfield explore the toilets in the sanitary unit of the camp. Winfield accidentally flushes a toilet, and the children think that they have broken it. They go to fetch Ma to show her. She is delighted with the toilets, but she is in the men's section and is told by an elderly man to use the women's section on the other side of the building. He also tells her that a ladies committee will visit her soon and explain the rules of the camp. Ma wakes up everybody and sends them to clean themselves. The camp manager, Jim Rawley, comes by while Ma is preparing breakfast and has coffee with her. Pa suspects that the manager is probably snooping around, but Ma says that the camp is clean and that "I feel like people again." Rose of Sharon comes in after having a bath and tells Ma of the shower stalls. Ma is really happy and says, "Praise God, we come home to our own people." She also goes to have a bath. When Rose of Sharon is alone, a woman who calls herself a "deep down Jesus-lover" warns Rose of Sharon that two girls have recently given birth to stillborn babies because of their sins of play-acting and hug-dancing. She also considers Jim Rawley to be Satan because he thinks that the actual sins are starvation and cold. When the woman leaves, Rose of Sharon starts crying. The manager, who is nearby, comforts her and says that although the woman means well, she makes people unhappy. He explains that the babies were stillborn because the women were under-nourished and physically exhausted due to working too hard. Ma returns and reassures Rose of Sharon that what the woman has said is utter rubbish.

The ladies committee arrives, and Ma and Rose of Sharon go with them to learn about the organization of the camp. Although the camp helps everyone, it does not allow charity; however, the camp allows each family twenty dollars' credit at the Weedpatch store. After the return from their meeting, the woman who had scared Rose of Sharon returns and introduces herself as Mrs. Sandry. She warns Ma about the wickedness of the camp. When Ma disagrees with her, Mrs. Sandry denounces her as sinful and prophesies the damnation of Rose of Sharon's baby. When Ma threatens to hit her with a piece of wood, she throws her head back and starts howling. Rawley arrives and tells Ma that Mrs. Sandry is mentally unstable and is always disturbing people.

Pa, Uncle John and Al return to camp without having found any work. Although Pa is sad and low in spirits, Ma is optimistic since Tom found work early that morning.

Notes

The Weedpatch camp re-establishes the people's dignity and confidence. The group has more power than the individual. The people themselves manage the camp, and there are no cops around. There is order and cleanliness, and the basic necessities of life are available. This contrasts with the filthy Hooverville camp where the Joads were received by a "bull-simple" migrant. Here the manager, Jim Rawley, greets them. He takes his work seriously, manages the camp sensibly and compassionately, and allows the migrants to organize their affairs themselves. The ladies committee takes its task seriously as well. The fear of the cops at Hooverville is transformed into the confidence placed by the migrants in the committee.

People willingly help each other at Weedpatch. The Wallaces share their breakfast with Tom and even take him along with them to work, knowing full well that it will result in less work for them. Such acts of unselfishness reinforce that the willingness to share is not only Ma's characteristic but also a common trait among the migrants. The readiness with which Tom takes to work shows that he isn't simply a spiritual drifter and given a chance, can become a useful member of society. Unfortunately, Tom is the only member of the family who finds work.

The orderliness of the camp and the willingness of the people to help almost succeed in camouflaging the real misery of the situation. This optimism, in turn, serves to make the trials still in store for the migrants and the Joads seem even harsher by contrast. There are, however, some decent people who are fair to the migrants. Mr. Thomas is one of the few small landowners who is sympathetic to the plight of the workers. He shows kindness when he explains about the lower wages and tells the men about the troublemakers who will come to the Saturday night dance.


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