Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2440
Jim Rawley: the manager of a camp where the migrants govern themselves and living conditions are much better
Ezra Huston: a migrant who heads the Central Committee, the group of people who regulate conduct in the camp
The Joads go to a camp provided for the migrants by the Federal government where there is one vacant spot they can occupy. Tom learns that cops can’t come into this camp unless there is major trouble or they have a warrant, and the migrants elect their own police and make their own laws.
The next morning Tom meets the Wallaces. They invite him to breakfast and offer to take him to a farm where they have found work digging ditches. The farmer, his land mortgaged, has to pay less than he has been paying or be in trouble with the Farmer’s Association and the bank who dictate the wages he pays. Being sympathetic to the Okies, he secretly warns them some people will start trouble at the camp dance on Saturday to give the deputies an excuse to enter and break up the camp. The landowners fear the migrants are getting used to being treated too well in the camp and will be harder to control when they move to other camps run by the owners.
Ma is delighted with the running water and wash tubs, showers, and toilets and is happy to be able to clean up to meet the Ladies Committee for the Joad’s section of the camp. She talks with Jim Rawley, the camp manager, and realizes he and the inhabitants of the camp are her kind of good people. Ma and Rose of Sharon meet the committee and learn the camp’s routines and rules and how the really destitute can get food on credit until work is found.
Pa, Al, and Uncle John go looking for work, but all they find are signs saying, “No Help Wanted. No Trespassing.” Another man from the camp tells them he has searched for a week without finding work. Pa is depressed but Ma is optimistic because Tom found work and says something will turn up if he looks further.
The migrants searched frantically for some kind of work, scraped and scrabbled to live, and found what pleasure they could in humble activities. They created pleasures with what little they had: their remaining sense of humor, tales of earlier days or their ancestors, and musical instruments they had brought along. Some would spend a part of their little money to see a movie and then entertain the others telling about it. With a little money some would seek escape in drink and dreams of pleasant experiences. Others found pleasure in having a preacher tell them they were cleansed of sin, while wishing they knew what sins they could do.
Preparations for the dance start early on Saturday. Ezra Huston, the head of the Central Committee, says he has added extra people to the committee to quietly stop any trouble. The migrants are mystified as to why the landowners want to destroy the camp. Tom is told to stay at the main gate with another man to check arriving guests and keep troublemakers out. Three men who say a Mr. Jackson invited them arouse suspicion. Jackson says he had worked with them at a farm but did not invite them to the dance. The committee watches the three and waits. Things go well until one of the three insists on dancing with someone else’s girl. The committee quietly surrounds and moves the trio off the dance floor. But somewhere someone has blown a whistle and a carload of deputies drive up and demand entrance because they hear a riot inside. When all they can hear is quiet music they leave but wait nearby.
Huston doesn’t understand why some migrants are turning against their own people. One says “a fella gotta eat” but will say no more about who sent them nor admit to being paid. They are put over the back fence without being harmed and with a warning that anybody attempting such a thing again will be severely beaten.
Later that night, another migrant tells of some mountain people hired as cheap labor who organized when the local townspeople bought guns and gasoline. He says 5,000 mountain men, each armed with a rifle, walked through the town and the people left them alone. He says they called it a “Turkey Shoot” and thinks the migrants should have a Turkey Shoot.
In California a great deal of food was growing. Scientists had devised many ways to make the fruit and vegetables bigger, better, and more abundant. However, much of it was going to waste. The small farmers could not get enough money from the canneries to pay to have their crops harvested. Soon their small orchards and vineyards would belong to the corporation or the bank. Only those who owned the canneries would survive, because they bought cheaply and kept prices high and because canned produce would last for years. Some of the abundant food was destroyed to keep the prices high. Those who needed and could have eaten and been nourished by the surplus were not allowed to use it. Much was just allowed to decay and the smell of decay spread over the state. Among the hungry, wrath was growing.
Ma tells the men something has to be done, and they are afraid to talk about it. She points out they have little food and no money left and that only Tom has found what little work there was. Pa doesn’t want to leave because the camp is so nice, but Ma tells him they can’t eat niceness. The men can’t decide where to go, but Ma insists they go the very next morning anyway. Pa remarks to Tom that it used to be that the men said what would be done but that now the women were saying it. Ma tells Tom she made Pa mad to keep him going on.
Rose of Sharon once again expresses worry over the effect all the troubles will have on her unborn baby, but Ma cheers her up. Pa says goodbye to some men, and Tom and his friends talk about organizing.
The Joads are up before dawn and leave the camp. Ma tells Tom they must have a house before winter. While they are fixing a flat tire on the truck, a man comes by and tells them there is work picking peaches only 35 miles away. Hoping to get some work that day, they drive on and talk about what they will buy with the money they will earn.
They are met by cops who say they will earn five cents for each box of peaches they pick. The cops escort the Joads into a fenced area past a throng of shouting people who look like migrants. Tom asks about the people and is told to mind his own business. The Joads unload the truck at the shed assigned to them and the four men immediately go to the peach orchard to start work.
The first box of peaches Tom picks are rejected because the manager says they are bruised. He has to start over and it takes longer to pack the peaches in the boxes carefully. Ruthie, Winfield, and then Ma, come to help and together all seven members of the family earn a total of one dollar for the day’s work. Ma finds prices at the company store are higher than in town and the dollar doesn’t buy enough to feed the family. When she asks the clerk to give her some sugar on credit against the next day’s wages, he says he can’t. He pays for the sugar himself. Ma repeats that, “If you’re in trouble or hurt or need, go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help.” She points out that although they have eaten what cost them their total day’s pay they are still hungry.
Tom goes to see what the trouble is outside the fence but a guard won’t let him through the gate. He goes down the fence and slips under it. Outside he meets Jim Casy, who tells him how the prisoners in his jail all started yelling at the same time and got better food. Casy is now trying to organize the migrants so things will get better. He says those outside the fence went on strike when the wages were cut in half and are now being badly mistreated. Tom tells him how things were in the government camp and Casy says he wants things that way everywhere. Casy knows the wages will be cut in half again the next day now that more people are there to pick the peaches.
Some men approach. Tom and Casy try to get away but are chased and stopped. As Casy tells them “You don’t know what you’re doing,” one of them crushes his head with a pick handle and kills him. Enraged, Tom kills the man with the same weapon. After being struck himself, he manages to get away, hide, and get back into the camp.
In the morning he tells the Joads he must leave. Ma says no. She tells him he needs protection and the members of the family are the only ones he can trust to hide him. They pick enough peaches that day to buy gas and that night they hollow out a hiding place for Tom in the truck and leave the camp. They see a sign that offers work picking cotton. Tom tells his parents that he will hide in a culvert near the cotton field while they get work.
Discussion and Analysis
In this unit the movement of plot from scene to scene and condition to condition continues and the conflict between the Okies and the vested interests grows.
The first movement is from the conditions of filth, disorder, and fear of cops in Hooverville to the cleanliness, order, and confidence in the committee form of government in the Weedpatch camp. Tom relaxes without more cops to face. He finds fellowship with men willing to share their food as well as the little work to be found. Ma feels she is once again among her own kind of people who behave in ways to which she is accustomed. Pa does not want to leave when it becomes necessary because the camp is so nice. But the camp’s promise of hope is fleeting and illusionary for the Joads. They are still migrants and do not find in Weedpatch the type of home Ma wants nor the meaningful work Pa needs. Soon the hope fades and the Joads must move on to the conditions of the hunger and squalor of migratory life in the peach orchard.
It is Ma who recognizes and reacts to the conditions. She knows they can’t continue to live in Weedpatch with little food and no money or work. It is at this point she starts to take over the management of the family and goads the men into action. Pa and Uncle John have been weakened by not having the dignity of having men’s work to do which once gave them the position as the head of the family. Ma still has her woman’s work of feeding and caring for the family. Still having her work, she is more in control of herself and her position is stronger, so she begins to assume leadership. When Tom kills a man, it is she who makes the decision for the family to leave the peach camp and hide him. She feels she has to take this control because Pa has lost it and there can be no family without it.
This unit also offers some commentaries on the character of the Okies. The Wallaces demonstrate that the willingness to share with one another is a common trait among them and not just solely one of Ma Joad’s. The Ladies Committee embodies the willingness to cooperate and help each other. An intercalary chapter and the camp dance show their enjoyment of simple social gatherings. And there are examples of their desire and ability to have a sense of order in their living together in community.
The idea of organization, which Tom earlier brought up with Floyd Knowles, is enlarged in this unit. In Weedpatch the migrants demonstrate their ability to organize themselves and work well and efficiently in achieving their goals when left on their own. The way they handle the attempt to destroy the camp carries the idea forward. It gives a picture of advantages organization would give them in dealing with the treatment they are receiving at the hands of the large landowners, labor contractors, and deputies. This is exactly the reason the owners fear them and try to destroy the good way of life in the camps and break any attempted strikes. The owners have created a system of agriculture that they ruthlessly control for their benefit. There is an undercurrent here that the owners realize they may not be able to control what they themselves have created by luring the migrant labor to California.
But there are signs that organizing to openly fight the owners and their minions is in the minds of the Okies and is growing alongside the growing wrath over the conditions they are enduring: witness the recommendation for the Turkey Shoot and the strike at the peach orchard. We now see Jim Casy, who has been inspired by what the concerted effort by a whole group can do, and is actively trying to organize the migrants as his new calling for doing good for mankind. In his death in pursuit of his efforts on behalf of oppressed people, he again appears as a Christ figure. Steinbeck even has him say to his killers, the oppressors, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”
The death of his friend breaks Tom’s restraint and he kills in return. He has killed before, but that was because he had been injured. This time he kills because a fellow man has been violated. He is nearing the end of his personal journey from lone individual to membership in the family of mankind. But he must now go into hiding and can no longer help his own small family. Instead he becomes a burden on them which forces them to move on to a new scene and new conditions.
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