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The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 18 Summary

  • The Joads keep on keeping on. Their car climbs the New Mexico mountains, it crosses Arizona.
  • A snippy border guard in Arizona asks them how long they plan to stay in the state.
  • Welcome to California, Joads! Look at the mountains you just crossed. Look at that big, scary desert you now have to cross.
  • The Joads decide to take a load off and to rest by the Colorado River. It's morning, and they don't want to have to cross the desert in the heat of the day.
  • Granma is not feeling so well.
  • The Joads and the Wilsons set up camp.
  • The men decide to go skinny-dipping in the Colorado River.
  • Two strangers, a father and a son, join the Joad men in the river. They are on there way back from California. They tell stories about how terrible things are in California. There is no land for sale, and Californians are mean. They call the migrant workers, "Okies," a nickname that means "scum." There is no work to be had, and the Californians are scared that the migrant workers will steal their land.
  • "Ruh-roh," thinks Pa and Tom Joad. This doesn't sound too hot.
  • Tom Joad decides to take a nap in the Willows.
  • Noah tells Tom he's not going to continue to journey into California with his family. He has fallen in love with the Colorado River and wants to live here forever, fishing and swimming.
  • Tom tries to convince Noah not to leave, but Noah won't listen. Noah tells Tom that he knows his parents don't really care about him. Sad.
  • Noah disappears for good, and Tom takes a nap.
  • Meanwhile, in the Joad tent, Granma is lying on the cot and hallucinating. She thinks she sees Grampa and talks to him.
  • Rose-of-Sharon is a little freaked out by Granma, and Ma tries to calm her down by explaining that death is a natural thing, just like birth is a natural thing.
  • A big woman with sagging skin barges into the tent and tells Ma that she and some other people heard that the Joads had a dying woman in their tent. She asks Ma if she'd like her (a complete stranger) to assemble a prayer circle in the tent to help Granma die.
  • Ma tries to be polite, but is furious by this woman's audacity and rudeness. She tells the woman that Granma isn't dying, that she's just exhausted.
  • The woman with the sagging skin says something to the effect of, "Sure, lady, whatever you say. You are the queen of de Nile. I'm going to go assemble a prayer circle in my tent with the other campers, and we'll pray for your soul, too."
  • In the distance, Rose-of-Sharon and Ma can hear the prayer circle start singing. They start thudding around and wailing, and they sound like puppies at a dish. Ma and Rose-of-Sharon are moved by the sound.
  • Granma begins to sleep soundly, and Ma Joad wonders if she should have been nicer to the Jehovite woman with the sagging skin.
  • Rose-of-Sharon lies down for a nap, gabbing about all of the fun things she and Connie are going to do when they settle down in California.
  • There's a rude knock at the canvas tent door, and a man demands to know who is inside. The man wears a gun and a badge.
  • Ma answers him, and the policeman rudely tells her that she and her family better not be here tomorrow, or he'll arrest them.
  • Offended by his rude manner, Ma runs at him with an iron skillet and tells him that, where she comes from, men don't speak to women so disrespectfully.
  • The policeman tells her that she's in a new place now, a place that doesn't like "Okies" and that doesn't want "Okies" to settle down.
  • Ma is perplexed by the term, "Okies."
  • Tom wakes up and decides to go for another swim. He encounters a little boy playing in the water.
  • Ruthie summons Tom from the river, and then stares in bewilderment at the naked little boy.
  • Ma tells Tom about the rude policeman and about how he called her an "Okie."
  • Tom tells Ma that Noah has left the family.
  • Ma is shocked and says, "family's fallin' apart" (18.221). She reflects on how dirty everyone is and on how she doesn't even wash the potatoes before she cooks them, "seems like the heart's took out of us" (18.231).
  • Ruthie summons the rest of the Joad men from their naps, and Tom tells them that they have to push on.
  • Ivy Wilson tells the Joads that Sairy's too sick to go on, and that they should leave without them. He's very serious about this.
  • The preacher goes to see Sairy, and she asks him to pray for her. The preacher tells her he doesn't know how anymore, but she tells him to do it anyway he can, anyway he wants. Sairy tells him that she used to sing all the time when she was little and that singing is like praying. She tells the preacher that she feels like "pain covered with skin" (18.269), and that she knows what ails her, but that she doesn't want to tell her husband for fear he'll get too sad.
  • The Joads pack up camp and are careful to bring lots of water on their journey through the desert.
  • Pa tries to give Ivy some money and food, but Ivy won't take any of it.
  • Ma puts the money on the ground, and puts the pork pan over it. She tells him that she is going to leave the money right there.
  • The Joads pile onto the jalopy and head to Needles, CA, where they gas up and look at a map.
  • The gas station attention tells them they have a lot of nerve to attempt crossing the desert in a beat up car. Tom replies, "'it don't take no nerve to do somepin when there ain't nothin' else you can do'" (18.295).
  • As the Joads leave the station, two station attendants gossip about them. They say, "Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. A human being wouldn't live like they do. A human being couldn't stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain't a hell of a lot better than gorillas" (18.299).
  • The Joads crawl through the desert and over the desert mountains.
  • Uncle John tells the preacher about how his wife died, and asks if it was a sin to let her die like she did.
  • At dawn, they reach an inspection point, and the inspectors begin to search the car for produce. Ma tells them that Granma is really sick and to please let them go, so that they can find a doctor. The inspectors agree.
  • The Joads reach Barstow, and Tom stops the car in order to get Granma to a doctor, but Ma tells him to keep on driving.
  • They reach the top of the mountains, and they look out and see the golden valley stretched out before. They pull over to take a gander. They can see vineyards, orchards, sparkling cities, and green fields stretch before them in the morning sun.
  • Ma looks like she hasn't slept in years. She informs the family that Granma died a while back, but that she didn't want to tell them for fear they'd stop the car and for fear they'd never get across the desert.
  • Everyone is moved by the beauty of the valley, and totally freaked out by the fact that Granma's been dead for a while.
  • The Joads pile back into the car and head down the mountains and into the valley.

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