Illustration of the back a man in a hat and overalls looking towards the farmland

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

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Chapter 12-16 Summary

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Last Updated May 16, 2023.

Chapter 12
Highway 66 served as the primary road connecting Oklahoma to the western part of the country. Along its extensive route, it passed through various terrains such as mountains, dry plains, deserts, and one last mountain range before reaching the lush green valleys of California. People who were migrating from the north and south of the highway gathered their vehicles and formed small convoys to head towards the west.

When the migrants required parts to keep their vehicles running, some people they encountered at service stations along the road attempted to exploit their vulnerable situation by increasing the price of the auto parts.

If the price was much higher than the actual value of the part, they viewed it as a normal business practice. The migrants were forced to continue using their old tires until they could find a more reasonable price at the next station. Often, they had to walk for extended periods of time to locate the necessary parts.

Chapter 13
While on the road, the Joads stop for Granma's restroom break. They soon realize that they have forgotten to bring any water along with them. Al suggests that they should stop at the next station to refuel the truck and collect water. Upon arriving at the station, the attendant immediately asks them if they have any money. Al gets annoyed by this question, but the attendant explains that many people are desperate for gas and are willing to trade their meager belongings, including their shoes, for fuel to continue their journey west.

The attendant is confused by the large number of people traveling west and inquires about the situation of the country. Tom expresses his anger towards the question, stating that many people do not genuinely want to know what is happening. Tom cautions that even the station will eventually be impacted and displaced by the large gas station corporations. The man confesses that he has been contemplating leaving as well, and the family continues their journey.

Ma is concerned that Tom may get into trouble with his parole if he crosses the state line. Tom acknowledges the risk involved but believes it's preferable to remain where he is and go hungry.

After taking the turn onto Highway 66, Ma suggests to stop before sunset for her to prepare food. Tom finds a suitable location where a car is already parked. He asks the man near the car if it's alright to stop there. The man clarifies that he doesn't own the spot and only halted there because his car couldn't move any further. The man and his wife, Ivy and Sarah Wilson, who have left their Kansas farm to head west, kindly invite the Joads to join them and share the location.

Noah assists his grandfather in getting off the truck, but it's evident that he is very sick. Mrs. Wilson proposes that they utilize the tent they've set up for him to rest. However, after Grampa enters the tent, he suffers a stroke and passes away.

During a family meeting, the Joads decide that they will conduct Grampa's burial themselves in that location, in accordance with their traditions, as they cannot afford a conventional funeral and don't want the authorities to bury him in a pauper's grave. Technically, burying him this way is illegal, but their options are limited.

Ma and Mrs. Wilson collaborate to use one of Mrs. Wilson's quilts to prepare the body, which Ma offers to replace. The male members of the family dig a grave and request Jim Casy to deliver a brief speech. Rather than offering prayers for Grampa, Casy discusses the challenges that the living will have to face. He mentions that Grampa passed away when he was separated from his farm and does not say much about his life because it has ended. However, he emphasizes the significance of the living.

The Wilsons recount the numerous setbacks they have faced due to their car frequently breaking down, which Mr. Wilson is unable to fix. Tom and Al offer to repair the vehicle. Upon inspecting it, they propose that both families split up the passengers and luggage between their two cars and travel together. Although Mrs. Wilson worries that this may inconvenience the Joads, the Wilsons agree to the idea. Ma reassures them that it won't be a problem and that they will assist each other.

Chapter 14
The wealthy landowners in the Western states were unaware of the extent of the changes taking place and reacted with anxiety and resistance to the flood of new migrants. However, those who had an innate drive to work hard and lead fulfilling lives persisted despite the challenges. They may have had setbacks, but they persevered. Initially, individuals or families were forced off their land, feeling isolated and confused. But soon, groups of families began to band together and the phrase "I lost my land" evolved into "We lost our land." Similarly, "I have a little food" turned into "We have a little food." The Western landowners begin to fear that these united migrants may rise up and cause some problems, or even a revolution. 

Chapter 15
Along the road, there are numerous restaurants that cater to customers, particularly truck drivers. The staff at these places like the truckers, who pay for their meals, leave tips, and refer others.

Conversely, others who frequent these establishments often grouse and are frugal, and do not tip well. Meanwhile, at one of these eateries, two truck drivers are present when a family arrives in an old car carrying their belongings. The driver requests water and subsequently asks to purchase bread, but only has a dime and a penny to pay for it.

Despite bread being sold at a price of fifteen cents per loaf, the cook instructs the waitress, Mae to charge only ten cents to this poor man in tattered clothing, who has two young boys with him. Later, when the man and his two sons see candy on the counter, the man inquires about the price and the waitress tells him it costs two pieces for a penny, rather than one piece for a penny as the man had assumed.

As the man and his sons depart, some truck drivers inform the waitress that they are aware the candy is actually sold for five cents per piece. As a result, they leave generous tips for the waitress upon leaving.

Chapter 16
The Joads and Wilsons have teamed up and are traveling through the remaining parts of Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle as a united group. The journey has become their lifestyle, with constant movement and travel. Nonetheless, Rose of Sharon confides in Ma about her and Connie's intention to locate a town where Connie can secure employment and they can establish a permanent residence.

While the Wilson family and the Joads were on their way through New Mexico, their car broke down once again. Tom predicted that it would take a day or two to repair the car. When Ivy Wilson suggested that the Joads should continue their journey without them, Pa refused. Tom then proposed that the others should move ahead in the Joad truck to find work while he and Jim Casy remained to repair the car and catch up later. After everyone agreed to this plan, Ma confronted Pa with a jack handle and insisted that the family should not separate. The others ultimately gave in to Ma's demand.

Tom instructs them to locate a nearby location to spend the night, while he and Casy focus on repairing the car. Casy expresses concern that there might not be enough jobs for everyone, with so many people moving towards the west in search of work at the same time. In response, Tom says that he will deal with that issue when he encounters it and, in the meantime, will take things one step at a time.

Al and Tom returned to town in the truck to find a connecting rod for their car's repair. While searching at a wrecking yard, they met a man with one eye who advised them to explore the area. They eventually discovered the needed part, which the man sold them at a significantly lower price than what his boss, whom he despises, would have charged. During their conversation, the man opened up about his personal struggles and emotions, prompting Tom to encourage him to stop pitying himself and take steps to improve his life and not dwell on what he has lost.

Tom and Al have returned to their car and used a flashlight to light up the area while they fixed it. Afterwards, they head to the campground where Al had previously left his family. Upon arrival, the proprietor informs Tom that an additional fifty cents will be charged for the second car to stay the night. He warns them that they could be arrested as vagrants if they stay on the side of the road. Tom begins to argue but Pa intervenes and stops him. Tom decides that he and Uncle John will take a risk by sleeping in the car just off the road, and they plan to watch for the family to arrive in the morning.

A man dressed in shabby clothes who was standing nearby laughed when Pa mentioned the prospect of finding work and acquiring land in California. This man claimed to have been to California and was planning to return. He warned Pa and his companions that labor contractors in California would advertise for more workers than necessary, paying the lowest wages possible to those desperate enough to accept anything. He claimed that his own family, including his wife and two children, died from starvation due to the meager wages he received. This revelation concerned Pa, but Casy suggested that each person's experience could be very different. As Tom departed, he threw a clump of dirt at the proprietor who insulted him by calling him a bum.

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