The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the overall lesson learned in chapter 20 of The Grapes of Wrath?

Expert Answers info

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write16,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

I think that Ma's words at the end of the chapter might represent the overall lesson of the chapter.  When Ma tells Tom that “us people will go on livin’ when all them people is gone,” it is indicative of a couple of things.  The first is that there are more poor people who are disenfranchised than rich people who have power.  Ma speaks the basic idea that as things become progressively worse, there are more who are marginalized.  If these individuals can learn to coalesce, there will be change and social transformation.  While Tom is frustrated with how the police are trying to "break them" and "test their decency," this is a realization that Tom is going to come to later on in the narrative.  Additionally, the idea of people "livin" while others are "gone" is something that Rose of Sharon is recognizing as Connie leaves the camp.  Ma's words speak to the idea that there can be a bridging of social reality whereby individuals recognize the basic humanity in one another because these are the individuals who "will go on livin."  When the children stare longingly at Ma's stew, and she recognizes the importance of giving them some, even when it comes at her family's cost, Ma recognizes the importance of social solidarity.  She understands that the economic and social conditions are ones where more people like her are becoming more apparent.  Her desire to start the broadening of social commitment and transformation is what ends up keeping the family together and a lesson that will inspire Tom at the end of the narrative.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial