Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2432
New Characters Ivy Wilson: a farmer from Kansas, headed west, whose car has broken down along the highway
Sarah Wilson: his wife, who shows the strain of travel
SummaryChapter 12 Highway 66 was the main cross-country road running through Oklahoma and on west. On its long way it crossed...
(The entire section contains 2432 words.)
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Ivy Wilson: a farmer from Kansas, headed west, whose car has broken down along the highway
Sarah Wilson: his wife, who shows the strain of travel
Highway 66 was the main cross-country road running through Oklahoma and on west. On its long way it crossed mountains, dusty plains, more mountains, the arid southwestern desert, and one final range of mountains before reaching the fertile green valleys of California. The migrants streamed from their former homes to the north and south of it and turned westward, forming small caravans of whatever vehicles they had been able to obtain.
When they needed parts to keep the vehicles moving, people along the way tried to take advantage of their plight and raised the price of the parts. If they charged much more than the four dollars a tire was worth, they considered it business. If the migrant took it for nothing, however, he was a thief. So the migrants would go on and try to make an old tire do until they could get a fairer price. Many times they had to walk long distances to get a needed part.
After driving awhile, the Joads have to stop so Granma can go to the bathroom. They realize they have not brought any water with them, and Al says the truck needs gas also so they will stop at the next station and get both. The first thing the station attendant wants to know is if they have any money. This angers Al, but the man explains too many people are begging for gas or trading their meager possessions, even their shoes, for the gas to keep their vehicles moving west. He is bewildered by the number of people going west and asks what is happening to the country. Angrily Tom tells the attendant that although he asks that question, he, like many others, doesn’t really want to know. Tom warns him that he too will be affected and driven out by the big company gas stations. The man admits he has been considering leaving, and the family drives on.
Ma is worried that if Tom crosses the state line he will be in trouble because of his parole. He replies that he knows the chance he is taking, but it is better than staying where he is and starving.
After they turn onto Highway 66 Ma says they should stop before sunset so she can prepare food for them. Tom spots a good place to stop. There is a car there already and Tom asks the man by it if it is all right to stop there. The man replies he doesn’t own the place, but only stopped there because his car couldn’t go any further. He and his wife welcome the Joads to stop and share the place. They are Ivy and Sarah Wilson who have left their farm in Kansas to go west.
As Noah helps Grampa down off the truck, it is apparent that Grampa is not well. Mrs. Wilson offers to let him lie down in the tent they have put up. Once inside the tent Grampa has a stroke and dies. At a family council the Joads decide they will bury Grampa themselves, right there, according to their “own law,” because they can’t afford a regular funeral and don’t want the authorities to put him in a pauper’s grave. Mrs. Wilson helps Ma prepare the body in one of her quilts, which Ma offers to replace. All the men of the family dig a grave and ask Jim Casy to say a few words. Instead of praying over Grampa, Casy talks about the hard road ahead for the living. He says Grampa died when he was taken away from his farm and much need not be said about him because his life, whatever it had been, was done, but that the living were important.
The Wilsons tell of all the delays they have suffered caused by constant trouble with their car, with which Mr. Wilson does not know how to deal. Tom and Al promise to fix it. After looking at the car they suggest the two families distribute the people and baggage between the two vehicles and travel together. The Wilsons are happy to do so, although Mrs. Wilson is afraid it will be a burden on the Joads. Ma says it won’t be a burden, that they will help each other.
The great owners in the Western states did not realize the nature of the changes occurring, and they nervously resisted the changes. But those with the inborn desire to work and have meaningful lives plodded onward. For every step forward they might have to take a half step back, but they continued to push on. At first it was one man, one family, driven off the land, alone and bewildered. Families would camp together and “I lost my land” became “We lost our land.” “I have a little food” and “I have none” became “We have a little food.”
There are eating places all along the road. Their favorite customers are the truck drivers who pay for their food, leave a tip, and bring other customers. The wealthy people who stop constantly complain and spend little. While two drivers are in one such place, an old car loaded with family possessions pulls in and the man in it asks for some water. He then asks if he can buy ten cents worth of bread. He only has a dime and a penny. Although bread is fifteen cents a loaf the cook tells the waitress to give him a loaf for ten cents. When the man’s two sons look longingly at the candy in the counter the man asks if it costs a penny a piece. The waitress says it is two pieces for a penny. When the man and boys leave, the truck drivers say they know the candy is five cents a piece and they leave the waitress extra-large tips when they leave.
Now joined together, the Joads and Wilsons cross the rest of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. The road has become their home and movement their way of life. However, Rose of Sharon tells Ma of her and Connie’s plan to settle in some town where Connie can find work and they can have a home of their own.
As they are crossing New Mexico the Wilson’s car breaks down again. Tom thinks it will take a day or two to fix. Pa refuses when Ivy Wilson tells the Joads to go on without them. Tom suggests the others all go on in the Joad truck and get work as soon as possible while he and Jim Casy stay and fix the car and catch up later. After all agree, Ma confronts Pa with a jack handle and refuses to let the family separate. The others give in to her.
Tom tells them to go find a nearby place for the night while he and Casy work on the car. Casy worries that so many people are going west to look for work there won’t be enough work for all. Tom replies that he will cross that fence when he comes to it, meanwhile putting one foot down at a time. Al comes back in the truck and he and Tom go to a town for the connecting rod needed to repair the car. At a wrecking yard they find a one-eyed man who tells them to look around. They find the right part, which the one-eyed man sells them much more cheaply than he says his boss, whom he hates, would. When the man relates all of his personal troubles and feelings, Tom tells him to stop feeling sorry for himself and do something to change his life for the better.
Tom and Al return to the car and fix it by the flashlight the one-eyed man has also sold them very cheaply. They go on to the campground where Al had left the family. The proprietor tells Tom it will be an extra fifty cents for the night for the second car. He also says they will be arrested as vagrants if they just stay at the side of the road. Tom starts to argue when the proprietor calls him a bum, but Pa stops him. Tom says he and Uncle John will take a chance on sleeping in the car just off the road further on and watch for the family to catch up in the morning.
A raggedly dressed man standing nearby laughs when Pa talks about getting work and some land of their own in California. He says he has been there and is coming back. He tells them how the labor contractors advertise for more workers than they need, more than in fact there is work for, and pay the lowest wages they can to those who are starving and will work for anything they can get. His own wife and two children died of starvation he tells them. This worries Pa but Casy says what may be true for one man is not always true for another. As Tom leaves, he throws a clump of dirt at the proprietor who called him a bum.
Discussion and Analysis
The previous unit ended with a description of the dying land being left behind. This unit opens with a shift of scene by describing the long and arduous road which the migrants must travel to begin to reach their goal of a better life. Throughout the novel the plot moves the action from scene to scene and from condition to condition. The main characters are carried along with the changes in scene and condition. Their conflict with the physical and social environment, more so than conflict between themselves, largely determines their actions. Whereas in the past they dealt with the loss of their homes and means of livelihood, now they will have to adjust to the trials of travel and the growing resistance of the people in the areas they enter.
As they move, the migrants will enter and impinge upon a society different than the one with which they have been familiar. As a matter of fact, the further they go, the more resistance they will encounter from the people whose places are already established in this new and different society. They will also receive kindness, however, from some of the people they encounter, who are, like themselves, working people. The road-stop waitress and cook, the truck drivers, and the one-eyed man in the wrecking yard are “good guys” who help, while those with wealth and position are pictured as the “bad guys.” The one-eyed man in the wrecking yard is like the truck driver who earlier gave Tom a ride. Both are presented as poor employees who help other poor people because they resent their bosses whom they knew would not be as willing to do so. The camp proprietor represents still another class of people, those who take advantage of the migrants for their own profit. He points out that failure to pay his price, which Tom considers too high, will result in arrest for vagrancy if Tom tries to camp and sleep along the road for nothing. In the earlier intercalary chapter we encountered this theme. Those who charged too much for a tire were in business while the migrant who took the tire for nothing was a thief.
The joining of the Joad and Wilson families and the short intercalary chapter which follows carry forward some of the recurring themes of the story. First of these is Ma’s thought that the poor must look to their own kind when they need help. In the banding together into a larger family, the concern shifts from the individual “I” to the communal “we” of a larger society. In “We have a little food,” the reader hears an echo of Muley Graves sharing what little he had with those who had none.
In more of the allegory of the Exodus of the Israelites, the ragged man at the campground is like those sent out in advance by Moses who come back and give reports that the destination is not “a land of milk and honey” as promised.
For the first time we see Tom being aroused to action by conditions. He has been restraining his behavior by just putting one foot in front of the other and avoiding trouble, but he is angered at being considered a bum and is on the verge of physically fighting back. He has previously pointed out to the gas station attendant and the one-eyed man that they should take action to alleviate their troubles. And now resentment of the treatment he is receiving is pushing him to action. His throwing the clump of dirt at the proprietor is the first step in his change from being a solitary, docile prison inmate to a member of a group fighting against oppressors.
The theme of family unity and strength appears in this unit in two different ways: the death of Grampa and the joining with the Wilsons. The first is part of the breaking up of the small Joad family. This will continue throughout the rest of the novel. Grampa’s death also is an occasion for the Joads to act according to their traditional family codes. They bury their own dead with respect and, as a once independent farm family, they refuse to accept a pauper’s grave for him or charity from others for themselves. Their joining with the Wilsons represents the social evolution from the single family to the group of families that help each other through adversity. Casy’s idea, that all people are part of one big thing and that people need each other, is beginning to be shown. This idea will be further developed in future chapters by the joining together of ever larger groups of families, even in the temporary camps, for the good of all.
Grampa’s death also lets us see more of Casy’s concern for the living and their struggles. We see this again in his worry that there may not be enough work in California for all who want it.
Finally, in this unit we see the beginning of another change in the Joad family. With Grampa’s death Pa becomes the head of the family, but he is almost immediately challenged by Ma when she confronts him and insists the family not be separated.