Placards on the road and orange colored handbills advertise for cotton pickers. The dark green plants are stringy now, and the heavy bolls of cotton are bursting out like popcorn. Cotton bags cost a dollar each, but this cost is taken out of the first hundred and fifty pounds picked. A cotton bag lasts all season and when it is worn out, the open end could be sewed up and the worn out end could be opened up. When both ends were worn away the cloth could be used to make a fine pair of cotton drawers or nightshirts. There was no end to the uses to which it could be put to. The wages for picking cotton was fair enough, eighty cents a hundred for the first time over and ninety cents for the second time.

The good pickers have nimble inquisitive fingers and hardly have to look while picking. The pickers sometimes put rocks in their bags to compensate for the fixed scales and maintain the records of the weight of each sack so as to avoid being cheated. Cotton picking is good work and the migrants hope that it lasts so that they can save some money for the winter when there will be no work in California. But the numbers of the pickers is increasing rapidly so the work lasts only a short time. The pathos of the situation is brought out by the story of a man who never got his cotton bag paid for.


The chapter points to the bleak future that awaits the migrants. However hard they work and however quickly they pick cotton, disappointment is in store for them. It is evident that they will not be able to earn enough money for winter, and winter assumes sinister dimensions. The conflict and mistrust between the pickers and the employers come out as each tries to cheat the other. The chapter also prepares the reader for the experiences of the Joads while picking cotton.



The Joads are among the few families to reach the cotton fields and are lucky enough to get one of the twelve boxcars to live in. The Joads have one end of the boxcar and share the other end with the Wainwrights. The working and living conditions of the cotton pickers are good. It is better than any other place the Joads have traveled so far except for Weedpatch. The Joads pick cotton every day and can have meat every night. They make enough money to buy new overalls for Al, Pa, Winfield, and Uncle John, and a new dress for Ma.

One evening Ruthie gets involved in a fight with a big girl and tells her that her brother is hiding nearby and has killed two men. Winfield tells Ma that Ruthie has revealed the whereabouts of Tom. Ma takes two pork chops and some potatoes on a plate and goes to the cave to find Tom and warn him of Ruthie's error. They decide that Tom must leave. She gives him seven dollars that she has saved. Before separating, Tom talks to Ma about Casy's ideas. About how Casy thought that there was one big soul and all the people were parts of that whole. He explains that like Casy, he wants to help the people in organizing themselves in an attempt to improve their living conditions. Ma expresses concern for his safety and reminds him that Casy was murdered. Tom claims that his own safety is immaterial because if his soul is a part of one big soul then it will always be present everywhere. Before she leaves, Ma asks Tom to step closer. She wants to touch him and remember the feeling of him. Unfortunately, she cannot have a last look for the cave is too dark.

While Ma is returning to the boxcar a small farmer offers her work picking cotton nearby. His farm is only twenty acres. Ma tells him that her family will be there early next morning. When she reaches the boxcar, the Wainwrights tell the Joads that they are worried about their sixteen-year old daughter Agnes, who is going out with Al almost every night. They are worried that Agnes will become pregnant ,and Ma promises that either she or Pa will talk to Al about the matter. When Al arrives, he tells the family that he intends to marry Agnes and wants to leave and find work in a garage. Ma asks him to stay until spring. The Joads and the Wainwrights celebrate the proposed wedding by making pancakes. The next morning both the families go to pick cotton; but too many migrants arrive, and the cotton gets picked quickly. As the Joads return to the boxcar, it begins to rain heavily, and Rose of Sharon, who has been with the family, starts shivering.


The Joad family unit continues to diminish. Tom is forced to leave his hide-out due to Ruthie's mistake, and Al announces his decision to leave in search of work in a garage. Despite the determined efforts of Ma to keep the family from breaking up, she is saddened by her losses. When she goes to the cave to bid Tom good-bye, there is a poignant scene of her feeling his face in order to remember him. In spite of the Joad's losses, there is a moment of happiness in their lives when they get work as cotton pickers; they earn enough money to have a decent meal every day and buy some presentable clothes. As the chapter nears the end, however, there is a foreshadowing of the impending doom. The Joads are without any work and money; and the weather is gloomy and raining.

Tom's character shows considerable development in this chapter. When Ma goes to meet Tom, she has to go through a long passageway and into the cave, where it is very dark. This imagery suggests a return-to-the-womb and is symbolic of Tom's rebirth as a new person. He has moved out of his self-absorption and totally embraces Casy's Emersonian philosophy. He worries about the well-being of the others as a whole and has a desire to organize them for a better way of life. He openly states that his life alone is unimportant; if he dies, he will continue to live as part of the Oversoul. While Casy was more contemplative, Tom will become active and put Casy's ideas into practice.

There is little doubt that Jim Casy is meant to be a Christ-figure. Casy's reverence for life, for "all that lives is holy," is essentially Christian. As a disciple, Tom listens to, learns, and adopts Casy's philosophies. Now, like the disciples, Tom goes out to spread the word and organize the people to seek a better life.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone".