And to make matters still worse, the family learns that by leaving the state of Oklahoma, Tom will be breaking his parole. If caught, he would be sent back to McAlester for three more years. What should a man do in such circumstances? Let his family go alone? Stay behind and wander the countryside like Muley Graves? Or should he take a chance? Tom, it turns out, doesn't give the problem a second thought. His family needs him. Besides, the law has let him down in the past. Why should he begin to respect it now? He pledges to Ma that he will stay out of trouble, but as soon as he crosses the state line, Tom will become a fugitive.
When the Joads are beset with troubles, they call a meeting. Everyone knows where to sit: men huddle in the center, women behind them, children in the outer circle. Grampa, as the oldest, has the first word, even though his mind has gone silly. Anyone can talk, but decisions are made by the men.
In two ways this night's meeting differs from those of the past. Instead of assembling in the house, the family meets alongside the truck, which has suddenly become the Joads' "place." (The Joads, it seems, are being transformed from a "home" family into a "road" family.) Also for the first time, Al Joad joins the nucleus of men. As the family mechanic, he has earned a spot in the center. He reports on the condition of the truck: she's okay- weak, but she'll make it. On the road he'll be responsible for keeping the old Hudson rolling.
Then the group takes up Casy's request to join the family. Can they afford to feed still another person? Ma speaks up: "It ain't kin we? It's will we?" Adding that no Joad has ever refused food and shelter or a lift on the road to anyone who asked, Ma prevails. Casy is taken into the family. Have you noticed that Ma's authority has begun to creep into the family's decision-making?
If you've ever left home for any length of time, you're probably familiar with the feeling of restlessness most people feel before a trip. You're keyed up, you can't sleep, and time seems to pass oh, so slowly. You can't wait to get started. The same sense of urgency about getting underway hits the Joads that night. They decide to leave the next day instead of waiting.
Their night is filled with bustle. Slaughter the pigs and salt the meat. Collect tools from the barn, pack the clothes in boxes, gather pots and utensils from the kitchen. Load the truck. Make it even down below. Fill in the spaces with blankets. Throw the mattresses on top. If you don't need it, don't take it, we don't have much room!
Ma lets Casy salt the pork, and she retreats alone into the empty house. She finds her box of old family letters, clippings, and photographs. We see her holding it in her lap for a long time and remembering the years gone by. Then, biting her lip to keep from weeping, Ma places the collection gently into the stove. The flames lick up and over the box. For Ma, the past is over. Only the present counts now. By daybreak, the Joads are ready to go. All but one Joad, at any rate. At the last moment Grampa announces, "I jus' ain't agoin'." His reason is simple: "This here's my country. I b'long here." Grampa's rebellion may have been triggered by the sudden appearance of Muley Graves, come to bid the Joads goodbye, but can Grampa survive like Muley? The family thinks not. They devise a plan to spike Grampa's coffee with a "soothin' syrup." It works. Soon Grampa falls asleep and is hoisted onto the truck like a piece of baggage.
As the sun rises, the Joads' truck, groaning under its load, crawls slowly (like a turtle) onto the highway going west.
© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com is prohibited.