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Free Study Guide-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck-Free BookNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 16

Summary

The Joads and the Wilsons crawl westwards as a unit and settle into a new way of life. The highway has become their home and movement their medium of expression. With Tom driving the truck and Al driving the touring car, the families have traveled out of Oklahoma. During the journey, there is conversation. Rose of Sharon tells Ma that she and Connie plan to live in town, where her husband would work in a factory during the day and study at home at night. She dreamily says that when Connie gets his own store, Al could work for him. This plan enrages Al, who does not want to work in someone else's store, and upsets Ma, who does not want the family to split up. Ma suddenly realizes that all this is just a fantasy.

Suddenly, the Wilsons' car breaks down. Al blows the horn for Tom to stop the truck. Tom thinks that the rod bearing has burnt out. Tom suggests that the others continue on their way to California, while he and Casy repair the car; the sooner they get there the quicker they will start earning money. He explains that he and Casy will catch up with the rest of them at Bakersfield. Pa readily agrees to the plan and says that the suggestion has logic. Ma, however, disagrees and says that she is not going leaving them behind. Ma seizes a jack-handle and threatens to fight unless the family stays together. Seeing her determination, the others agree to stick together.

Granma is unwell and everybody is tired. Ma sets off to find a place to camp. When the others leave, Tom and Casy start repairing the car. They remove the old connecting-rod bearing. As they work, Casy wonders whether California will provide enough jobs for all the migrants. It seems to him that there is a whole country moving west. Tom, on the other hand, refuses to think that far ahead. In typical fashion, he says that he will take each day as it comes.


Presently Al arrives and tells them that the rest of the family is settled in a roadside camp. They are willing to spend fifty cents for the fee since Granma is unwell and everybody else is extremely tired. Al and Tom go to find the needed spare parts. They come to a wrecking yard where a one-eyed attendant sells them the spare part, a flashlight, and a socket wrench for only a quarter because he hates his boss. It is again a case of the poor helping the poor. After Al and Tom repair the car, they join the others at the campsite.

The owner of the camp tells Al and Tom that he charges fifty cents per car. Tom argues with him, but Pa stops the argument. He decides not to stay in the camp. A man asks them where they are going. Pa replies that they are headed to California to find work. A stranger warns them about the pathetic conditions in California. He says that when a landowner requires eight hundred hands, he prints five thousand handbills and twenty thousand people come for the job. This results in pitiably low wages, for the supply is far in excess of the demand. He tells them that he is returning home because his wife and children died of starvation in California. The stranger's account upsets Pa. Casy tries to console him by saying that one person's truth may be another person's lie. Ma still holds on to her dreams and is anxious to arrive in California, where it is "rich an' green." Tom and Uncle John leave in search of another place to spend the night.

Notes

This chapter exposes the Joads to the difficulties of the migrant life. The journey has an adverse impact on everybody's health. Granma is exhausted and extremely sick, and her condition worsens rapidly. There are various forces acting which threaten to disrupt the family as a unit. The dreams of Rose of Sharon and Connie are self-centered and do not include concern for the family as a whole. When the Wilsons' car breaks down, the family comes very close to breaking up when Pa readily agrees to Tom's suggestion that the rest of the family continue on their way to California; but Ma refuses to allow the family to separate. She is the principal force which binds the family together; she understands that in their migrant way of life, only the sense of the family is left and says, "All we got is the family unbroke." The incident with the jack-handle reinforces her authority and shows how women play an increasingly important role in making decisions.

This chapter also shows the development of Casy's character. He shows more insight than the others do in understanding the plight of the migrants and more perceptiveness in his appraisal of the changing scenario. He is aware of the huge numbers of families traveling to California in search of work and anticipates the problems that are ahead. Tom, on the other hand, limits himself to the present and refuses to think of the future.

This chapter also provides the first account of the working conditions in California by someone who has experienced it himself. The story of the ragged man who is returning home after his wife and children died of starvation in California foreshadows the difficulties that await the Joads. His utter helplessness contrasts with the dreams and aspirations of the Joads, especially Ma, who views California as rich and green.

The reality of their lifestyle begins to dawn on the Joads. They no longer own land, are itinerant people, and often need help from others to exist. These facts are emotionally hard for them since they have always prided themselves on paying their own way and being independent of charity.

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