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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE STORY CHAPTER 22

During their brief stay in Hooverville, the Joads heard about a government-run camp at Weedpatch. Life in Weedpatch is reported to be humane, clean, and safe. Why, then, don't all the migrants rush to Weedpatch? Because while the camp offers all the amenities, jobs within driving distance of the camp are scarce.

Nevertheless, the Joads decide to take their chances. They drive to the camp and for the first time in California, hear a friendly word, find a comfortable campsite, and get cleaned up. At every turn, they find pleasant surprises: hot and cold running water, toilets, showers, even a committee of residents to keep order and run the camp. Every Saturday night there's a dance. And best of all, no deputies or other belligerent officials are allowed inside camp gates. In all respects, Weedpatch is a refuge. "Oh! Praise God," says Ma.

Tom is up first the next morning. Gracious neighbors, the Wallaces, feed him breakfast and invite him to come along on a pipe-laying job they have on a farm a mile away. What phenomenal luck! He accepts, of course, but bad news greets him and the Wallaces when they get to Mr. Thomas' farm.

Thomas tells them that he can't pay 30 cents an hour anymore. It's 25 cents, take it or leave it. The Bank of the West, through the local Farmers' Association, has forced Thomas to cut his wage. The higher wage, he's been told, causes unrest among other workers in the valley. If Thomas defies the bank, he won't get his usual crop loan next year.

Because the Association has pushed him around, Thomas feels free to reveal plans for a raid on the government camp on Saturday night. The Association hates the camp because people feel content there. When the folks go back to squatters' camps, "they'll be hard to handle," Thomas explains. Also, without a legitimate reason, such as a shooting or a riot to break up, deputies can't get into the camp. During the dance on Saturday, however, "there's going to be a fight," Thomas warns, "and there's going to be deputies ready to go in."

Since Thomas is so clearly an ally, Tom and the Wallaces agree to his offer and go to work. The other Joads aren't as lucky as Tom. They fail to locate jobs during their daylong quest for work.


Back at the government camp, Ma and the children spend the first day learning to be civilized again. Ruthie and Winfield have the most to learn. Can you imagine what happens to 12- and 13-year-olds leading this kind of wayward life? Lately they've seen almost nothing but meanness and violence and death. How can they be expected to act like sweet, lovable kids?

In fact, they don't. They argue and fight and call each other names. In the camp bathroom Winfield flushes a toilet. Convinced that he broke it, Ruthie delights in telling on her frightened brother. Perhaps their behavior doesn't differ greatly from any typical brother and sister, but Ruthie in particular antagonizes almost everybody. For example, she barges into the middle of a children's game of croquet, shouting, "I wanta play now." The children troop silently off the court. Seeing that no one will play with her, Ruthie realizes her mistake. She runs back to the tent to weep alone. In time, she'll learn to act decently, but as for many people, it won't be easy.

When the camp manager pays a call on the Joads, Ma is distrustful at first. She has every right to be. When has any kind of authority treated her respectfully? But the manager calls her "Mrs. Joad," and praises her coffee. He also informs her that the camp's Ladies' Committee will soon visit her. Ma scurries around tidying herself and the tent. Suddenly, her dream of a better life has been rekindled. "Why, I feel like people again," she sighs.

The ladies of the camp greet Ma warmly. They take her around, proud to show off the laundry, toilet, and shower room. The camp works, they tell her, because people cooperate. No one should go hungry in the camp. If you're in need, you'll get credit at the Weedpatch store. If you can't pay your rent, you can work for the camp. Your obligation is to be clean, quiet, and obey the rules. Violators are expelled from the camp.

Just when Ma begins to enjoy her new surroundings a little, she has a row with a certain Mrs. Sandry, who has come to visit Rose of Sharon. Since Connie abandoned her, Rose of Sharon has been sickly and lethargic. Mrs. Sandry, a poor, deranged woman crazed by fear of the devil, warns Rose of Sharon: "You be good. If you got sin on you- you better watch out for that there baby." Sin, to Mrs. Sandry, is "clutch-an'-hug dancin'," the kind they do every Saturday night at the camp. And "play-actin'," too, when folks go "struttin' an' paradin' an' speakin' like they're somebody they ain't." Since Rose of Sharon has done both, she grows pale with fear over losing her baby.

Ma comes to the rescue. Remember how Ma threw the Jehovite woman out of the tent? She does the same to Mrs. Sandry, not only to protect her terrified daughter, but because she rejects Mrs. Sandry's "wailin' an' moanin'" brand of religion. Picking up a stick of wood, she says, "Git! Don't you never come back. I seen your kind before." The woman leaves, but she has left her mark on Rose of Sharon. Until her baby is born, Rose of Sharon will brood over what Mrs. Sandry called the "innocent child a-burnin' in that there girl's belly."  

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