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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 26

Summary

After one month at the Weedpatch Camp, the Joads do not have any money and hardly any food. Ma tells the men that they must decide to do something, for she has only two days' flour, one day's lard, and ten potatoes left. The men cannot find any work, and Ma suggests that they go to Marysville where fruit pickers are required. Pa does not want to leave because he likes the hot water and toilets in the camp; but Ma insists that they must go and look for work elsewhere. They decide to leave in the morning, but know they cannot travel far since they have little gas.

Rose of Sharon is feeling very low in spirits and worries about her baby being born deformed. She complains about not having milk to drink. Ma tries to lighten her mood by giving her a pair of gold earrings and piercing her ears. Before the Joads leave, Al visits his girlfriend and promises her that he will return after making some money. Pa and Uncle John talk to some people living in the camp, and Pa says he is leaving against his wishes. Tom talks with Jule and Willie Eaton about the need for the migrants to organize unions to protect them.

The Joads depart before daybreak after having some cold biscuits for breakfast. On the way they have a flat tire. While they are repairing it, a man offers them work at the Hooper ranch, which is only 35 miles away. The Joads immediately head in the direction or the ranch and hope to get work the very same day.

When they arrive, police escort them past an angry crowd into the ranch. The crowd, composed of migrants, is shouting slogans. The crowd makes Tom uneasy, and he questions the police officer about the trouble. He is told to mind his own business. The Joads are told to unpack their belongings in shack number 63. The family begins to pick peaches for five cents a box. They earn a dollar by nightfall, and Ma buys some groceries from the ranch store where the goods are inferior in quality and priced very high. She does not have enough money to buy sugar and pleads with the clerk to give it on credit since the men are still picking peaches. The man cannot allow it due to company policy; instead, he lends her a dime for the sugar. Ma thanks him and says, "If you're in trouble or hurt or need--go to poor people. They're the only ones that'll help."


After supper Tom slips out to learn more about the trouble that he saw earlier in the day. The guard, however, refuses to let Tom out of the gate. He then slips under a fence and soon meets Casy and some other men. Casy talks about his experiences in prison. He tells Tom about an incident when a prisoner protested against the bad food and nothing happened; but when everybody collectively protested, the quality of food improved substantially. Casy is trying to organize the migrants. He tells Tom that they are on strike because the ranch had reduced their wages from five to two and a half cents per box.

Tom tells Casy about the efficient Weedpatch camp where there is no interference from the police and is run by the people themselves. Casy is delighted at the news and wants it to be the same everywhere. Casy says that the wage at the ranch will be cut again when the police end the strike. Casy asks Tom to explain this to the people who are working: "Tell 'em they're starvin' us an' stabbin' theirself in the back." But both know that it is futile to do so since the people will not listen. Casy sadly observes that people always turn against the leaders of the labor movements and revolutions and that the leaders must eventually sacrifice their lives. The men hear footsteps approaching. They try to escape, but are caught. Deputy sheriffs advance towards them. Casy tells them, "You fellas don' know what you're doin'. You're helpin' to starve kids." While he speaks, a short heavy man crushes Casy's head with a pick handle, killing him. Tom leaps silently and kills Casy's murderer. Another man wounds Tom's face, but Tom manages to escape. He hides in some brush and makes his way back to the ranch.

When Tom wakes up the next morning, his face is swollen and his nose broken. He tells the family that he is in trouble and offers to leave rather than drag them along into trouble. But Ma insists that he stay, for he needs to be protected and hidden, and only the family can provide that. That day the Joads pick peaches for two and a half cents a box in order to collect enough money for gas. They hide Tom inside a cave made of mattresses and drive out of the ranch. As they travel, Tom sees an advertisement for cotton pickers, and the family stops. Tom proposes to hide in a nearby creek and join them again after his face heals.

Notes

This chapter constitutes the climax of the novel. It provides further evidence of Ma's authority and power to influence decisions. It is she rather than Pa who controls the family. The men have lost the capacity to face the situation; they do nothing. Ma thus goads the men into taking some action and insists on moving out of Weedpatch camp and looking for work elsewhere. She knows that it is dangerous for her to assume leadership, for it could break the spirit of the men; but she also knows that the men have to be incited into taking any action. It is also Ma who takes action after she learns that Tom has killed a cop. As she tells Tom, "Pa's lost his place. He ain't the head anymore. There is no fambly now." She assumes leadership and decides that they must leave the ranch to protect Tom.

Casy emerges once again as a Christ figure that sacrifices his life for the good of the people. In the beginning of the novel, he had told of his wanderings in the wilderness in an effort to find a solution to his dilemma of what constituted holiness. His experiences in the jail have pointed out the immense potentiality of unity and organization. This has already been proven by the success of government camps like Weedpatch, which were run by the people themselves. He has tried to organize people and led them on a strike to demand fairer wages. He has people under his guidance. He attempts to make a disciple of Tom when he asks him to go back to the ranch and tell the people working that they are acting against their own interests. Both know the futility of the task. Casy dies like Christ, as a martyr, saying that the men do not know what they are doing; Christ said the same words about the men who crucified him.

Tom's character undergoes development as he starts understanding and sympathizing with Casy's views. His earlier egocentrism is transmuted into a concern for humanity at large. He goes to find out about the trouble and meets Casy and watches as he is killed. The general meanness at large also affects Tom, who kills Casy's murderer. Ma understands his actions and hides Tom in a cave of mattresses to escape unseen from the ranch. This is ironic because in an earlier chapter he had refused to sleep in a cave with Muley Graves. At the end of the chapter, Tom sees a creek and hides there until his face heals (until he gets a new face, a new being).

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