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The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath


by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 20 Summary

  • Ma, Pa, and Uncle John leave Granma's body with the coroner in Bakersfield. They don't have enough money to give her a proper funeral.

  • Tom drives the family out to the country where they stop at the first camp they see. It is a really shady looking camp, with ratty tents and makeshift houses made out of things like moldy carpet and tattered canvas. Each tent or shack has a car next to it.
  • The Joads ask one couple if they can camp there, but the couple is really loopy and doesn't give a straight answer.
  • A man is fixing a car across the way and tells the Joads they can set up camp, but that the Deputy Sheriff will be around to push them along soon enough.
  • Little kids have begun to gather around and to watch the Joads unpack.
  • Tom talks to the man fixing the car. The man tells him that there's no work to be had in the area and that he's moving his family up north in hopes of work. He tells Tom that there are over three-hundred thousand migrant workers in California all looking for work.
  • Tom brings up the yellow pamphlet that he and his family saw boasting of jobs in California. The man tells him that the landowners printed up thousands of those pamphlets in order to get thousands of starving families to come to California. Now, there is a surplus of labor, and so the landowners don't have to pay the migrant workers practically anything. Everyone is starving for work and food.
  • Tom can't believe what he hears, and he asks the man why anyone hasn't organized the starving workers and led a revolt against the landowners.
  • The man tells him that people have tried to rebel against the oppressive landowners in the past, but that they have always been caught and thrown in jail. Now, everyone is scared of rebelling, because, if they do, the police will take their picture, record their names, and add them to a blacklist. If their name is on that blacklist, they won't be able to find any kind of work, and their families will starve. The workers are afraid of rebelling.
  • Tom tells the man he'd beat anybody up who'd stand in the way of his family's survival.
  • The man tells him that if he tried to beat a law enforcer up, he would eventually end up dead in a ditch. Only a one-line obituary would appear in the local paper, and it would read, "'vagrant found dead'" (20.91).
  • The man advises Tom to act stupid, like he doesn't know anything if he ever comes across a policeman.
  • Tom sits next to the preacher who is staring at and wiggling his toes.
  • Tom begins to talk to the preacher about what he's just heard, but the preacher knows the situation already. He knows that there's little work and that the situation is grim.
  • The preacher tells Tom he feels badly for latching onto the Joad family, eating their food, and not paying them back. He tells Tom he's going to leave them and go make some money so he can try to repay them.
  • Tom tells him to sit tight, because he's got a funny feeling that something big and important is about to go down.
  • Rose of Sharon has been puking inside the tent, and Connie is chilling with her. He is not digging the new campground. This is not what he expected. Connie wonders whether he should have stayed in Oklahoma and driven a tractor for The Man.
  • Rose of Sharon starts to worry a little bit about Connie, and tries to remind him of their dream of getting a little house before the baby comes.
  • Connie goes out front where Ma is cooking up a stew. The local children have gathered around her pot, and their mouths are watering like faucets. Ma asks them if they've had any breakfast, and it's pretty clear they haven't eaten in a long time.
  • One little girl tells Ma that she and her family have been here for six months now, and that her dad is out getting gas so that they can move on to find work.
  • The little girl tells Ma that she and her family used to live in a government camp. They moved north and, when they came back, the camp was all full. This camp is pretty much paradise for the migrant workers. They have running water, hot water, real toilets, and the folks gather round at night and sings songs.
  • Ma is seriously impressed by this, but is also really weirded out by the starving children that continue to stare at her pot.
  • Al goes over to meet the man who is fixing his car. We learn that the man's name is Floyd Knowles.
  • Al and Floyd talk about cars, and Al asks Floyd whether there's steady work to found in the area. No way, says Floyd.
  • A car pulls up carrying several men. Floyd asks the men whether they found any work, and the men say absolutely not. It's time to move on to new country in search of new work.
  • Ma dishes up the stew and leaves some leftovers for the starving children.
  • The Joads eat inside of the tent because they can't stand to watch the kids devour the near-empty pot with sticks, spoons, and tin cups.
  • A "strong, broad woman" (20.156) approaches Ma and coldly berates her for serving stew to her children. She tells Ma that she's working hard to make ends meet, and she doesn't need some benevolent woman to make her kids realize that their families are too poor to serve them stew.
  • Ma Joad tries to talk to the woman, tries to get her to sit down and take a load off, but the woman won't have any of it. The woman storms back into her tent.
  • Floyd tells Al and Tom that there's work up in Santa Clara Valley picking prunes and working in the canneries there. Santa Clara Valley is 200 miles north.
  • 200 miles sounds way too far away for Tom, and he wonders whether there really isn't any work to be had in the area.
  • Floyd gets a wee bit annoyed, because he's told Tom and Al about, oh, 10,000,000 times that there's no work in the area. He tells Tom that he's doing him a favor by telling him about Santa Clara, and he asks him and Al not to tell anyone else. He's trying to keep it a secret so that all kinds of people don't flock up north and horde the jobs.
  • A nice Chevrolet pulls up to the camp. A man in khaki pants, a flannel shirt, and a Stetson hat steps out. He's has lots of pens and a pad of paper.
  • The man asks Tom, Al, Floyd and a group of other men from the camp whether they are looking for work.
  • Heck yes, says a camper
  • The man says that there is work in Tulare country, but he can't tell them how much they'll be paying workers.
  • Floyd tells the man he'd gladly accept the job, just as long as the man can give him a contract explaining exactly how much money he'll be making.
  • The man tells Floyd not to boss him around and tell him how to run his business.
  • Floyd tries to tell the group of men not to sign up for the jobs until the man shows them his contracting license.
  • The policeman summons his sidekick from the car. Said sidekick happens to be a policeman with a gun, and the man tells this sidekick that Floyd is acting "red" and "agitatin" the group. The man asks the policeman if he has seen Floyd before. The policeman says, yes, indeed, he has. He believes he saw flood the week before at the scene of a robbery. This, we can tell, is a big fat lie.
  • Floyd turns red.
  • The deputy commands Floyd to get in the car.
  • Floyd punches the deputy in the face and runs away.
  • The deputy runs after Floyd, but Tom trips him so that he falls to the ground.
  • From the ground, the deputy pulls out his gun and aims at Floyd's fleeing frame. He misses Floyd, and, instead, blows the knuckles off of a harmless woman standing in front of her tent. Her fingers are attached to her hands by strings of flesh.
  • Floyd heads for the willow trees, and the deputy aims his gun at him once more.
  • Reverend Casy kicks the deputy in the back of the head, and the deputy goes unconscious.
  • The man speeds away in the Chevrolet.
  • Casy tells Tom to go hide in the willows in case the authorities come looking for vengeance.
  • More policemen come to the scene, the other campers retire to their tents, and Casy stays with the unconscious deputy. He tells the police that he is the one who hit the deputy, and he willingly gets in the police car.
  • The deputy wakes up, sees Casy in the car, and doesn't think that he is the man who kicked him. Casy assures him that he is.
  • Casy tells the police to send a doctor for the woman whose knuckles have been blown off. One policeman checks on her, and then reports back to his buddies that the gunshot sure made a mess of her hand.
  • The police take Casy away.
  • The camp gradually returns to normal.
  • Ma Joad prepares dinner.
  • Uncle John is worked up about Casy and about the way he took the blame for Floyd and Tom. He starts to talk about the sins he's committed.
  • Ma tells John not to confess his sins to other people.
  • John reveals a five dollar bill and tells them he's been keeping it a secret from the family. He's saved it up, because he knew he would have to get really drunk at some point. He feels awful about hiding the money from the family, but he really needs a drink.
  • John gives Pa the five dollar bill in exchange for two dollars. He takes the two dollars into town, tramples his hat in front of the store, and then goes in to buy alcohol.
  • Rose of Sharon is a hot mess. Connie is nowhere to be found, and she's not to happy about it.
  • Ma tells Rose of Sharon to stop being a prima donna and to peel some potatoes.
  • In the woods, Tom and Al run into Ruthie and Winfield, who are impersonating a drunken Uncle John. Al says that Ruthie needs a whipping.
  • Tom and Al run into Floyd, who tells them that the "poolroom boys" are going to come and burn down the camp that night. He suggests they get out of town.
  • Tom tells the family that they have to pack up.
  • Rose of Sharon asks Tom if he's seen Connie, and Tom says he saw him heading south.
  • The family realizes that Connie has left Rose of Sharon for good.
  • The Joads load up the car and head south.
  • A group of drunken men are in the middle of the road and they stop the Joad car. They tell Tom that they don't want any "Okies" in town, and that they better head north until cotton picking season comes around.
  • Tom keeps his cool, turns the car around, and starts to cry.
  • Tom drives north a little ways, hides in a dirt road, and then watches the drunken men head for the Hooverville.
  • Tom speeds south.

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