Study Guide

The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 19

By John Steinbeck

Chapter 19

  • Once upon a time, the land that is California belonged to Mexico.
  • Pioneers fought the Mexicans for the land, because their hunger for land was all-consuming.
  • Over time, pioneers began to develop farms. These farms became small businesses, run by business-minded farmers who were concerned with making a profit.
  • Eventually, the farms merged, and there were fewer and fewer farmers who owned larger and larger hunks of land.
  • These farmers hired "Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos" (19.4) to work the land, barely paying them and treating them poorly.
  • The farmers continued to become shrewd businessmen, hiring bookkeepers and teams of employees to manage the land. Some farmers never even saw the land they owned.
  • When the Dust Bowl occurred, families from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arkansas flooded into California looking for work on the farms. These families were hungry and were willing to work for any pay. The farmers began to pay their employees less and less, because there was a surplus of workers.
  • Everyone hates the migrant workers: the other workers hate them because they drive the price of labor down, the farmers hate them because they are afraid they will steal their land, and the merchants hate them because they don't have any money to spend.
  • The migrant workers live in junkyard camps called Hoovervilles, where there are homes made from tents, branches, and paper.
  • All around the migrant workers is fallow land, land that is unfarmed and rich in soil. But this land belongs to the farmers, and not to them.
  • The migrant workers see their children starving, and they know how easy it would be for them to grow food on these fallow lands, but they don't have a right to grow food.
  • One migrant worker tries to grow a garden in secret, and a cop kicks him off the land. Because if you successfully grow a garden or an orchard, you almost own the land. The farmers and landowners don't like the sound of that.
  • The landowners grow more and more afraid of the migrant workers: "how can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him—he has known fear beyond every other" (19.46).
  • The Hoovervilles are burned by the Department of Health, becaause they have become health hazards. Typhoid has erupted.
  • Three hundred thousand migrant workers have been pushed off of their lands in the Dust Bowl and have arrived in California. More are coming.
  • The landowners grow more and more fearful, because history tells them that when "property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away" (19.64).
  • The landowners begin to meet and band together in order to strategize ways of disempowering the growing anger and wrath of the starving workers.
  • The men of the migrant families gather on a porch one night. They have heard that a little boy has died from not having enough nutrients in his body. His family can't afford a burial.
  • The men take coins out of their pockets and make a pile of silver for the little boy's burial.
  • "Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won't all be poor. Pray God some day a kid can eat" (19.74).