Free Study Guide: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Free BookNotes|
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THE GRAPES OF WRATH: FREE ONLINE CHAPTER SUMMARY
This is the last intercalary chapter, which anticipates the fate of the Joads.
The story has come full cycle, for this chapter (the next-to-the last)
is structurally similar to the first chapter where the women watch the
faces of men after the disaster of the dust storm. The novel begins with
drought and ends with flood; both are murderous on the migrants.
The final chapter of the novel begins with miserable weather, reflective of the plight of the migrants. There is heavy rainfall. The puddles swell into a little stream that advances toward the flat ground where the boxcars stand. On the second day of the downpour, Al tries to protect the truck by spreading a tarpaulin on its nose. The spirits of the men are dampened. They wonder if they should leave, but decide against it since they are at least dry in the boxcar. Pa notices the rising water level and proposes to build a mud embankment to prevent the water from flooding them. He persuades other men to help him, and they work throughout the night. Fate, however, is against them and a fallen tree knocks a huge hole in the embankment, allowing the water to flood the area. Al runs to start the truck, but the engine will not turn over.
Rose of Sharon goes into labor and soon gives birth to a stillborn child, "a blue shriveled little mummy." Pa wonders whether there is anything that he could have done. He goes out to talk to the other men. Mrs. Wainwright offers to sit with Rose of Sharon and tells Ma to take some rest. They talk about helping each other, and Ma perceptively says, "Use' ta be the fambly was fust. It ain't so now." Ma thanks Mrs. Wainwright for her help. Uncle John takes the baby out in a box to bury it, but he floats it downstream instead. He hopes that it will be washed into a street so that the people realize the plight of the migrants.
The Joads and the Wainwrights become one family working together; they construct
platforms in the boxcar so that they can keep above the rising water.
Eventually, Ma decides that they must seek a better shelter. Al stays
back with Agnes, and the other Joads leave. They find a dry barn on high
ground. The last scene of the novel is Rose of Sharon nourishing a starving
man with the milk meant for her dead child.
The fortunes of the Joads progressively deteriorate as the hardships increase. Pa, who realizes his ineffectiveness, has relinquished his position in the family to Ma, who desperately tries to hold the family together. Despite her valiant efforts, the Joads have considerably reduced in number. Grampa and Granma have died; Noah, Connie, and Tom have left. Now, Al stays behind with his proposed wife. The family is no longer a cohesive whole, and those remaining face a bleak future. They are surrounded with gloom, symbolized in the weather, and death symbolized in Rose of Sharon’s stillborn baby. Uncle John put the lifeless body of the infant in a box and sends it down the stream, as a protest of the treatment of the migrants. This death could have been prevented, and he wants others to realize that.
When Ma thanks Mrs. Wainwright for her help, she also expresses her realization
that in her present plight the people must transcend their concern for
their own immediate families and embraces everybody; they must enter into
wholeness, into unity. Thus, she comes to accept the truth of the Emersonian
philosophy and starts thinking like Tom and Casy. Rose of Sharon puts
this philosophy into practice. Having given up her child to a needless
death, she nourishes a starving migrant back to life. The last scene of
the play, therefore, is a hopeful one. Through united effort, the migrants
can overcome their trials and tribulations.
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