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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Chapters 22-26 Summary

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Last Updated May 17, 2023.

Chapter 22
The Joad family heads to a migrant camp established by the Federal government and manages to secure an available spot. Tom becomes aware that law enforcement officers cannot enter the camp without a serious issue or a legal document, and the migrant community chooses their own law enforcement officials and establishes their own regulations.

Tom encounters the Wallaces the following day, and they extend an invitation to join them for breakfast. They also propose bringing him along to a farm where they've secured employment digging ditches. The landowner is in debt, and in order to avoid problems with the Farmer's Association and the bank that determine his workers' salaries, he needs to reduce the amount he pays them.

He shows empathy towards the Okies and covertly informs them that certain individuals plan to cause chaos during the upcoming camp dance on Saturday. This is intended to provide an excuse for the deputies to intervene and disperse the camp. The landowners are apprehensive that the migrants are becoming accustomed to the favorable treatment they receive in their Government camp, and may become more difficult to manage when they transition to other camps under the owners' supervision.

Ma is very pleased with the modern amenities at the camp such as running water, wash tubs, showers, and toilets. She is also happy that she can clean herself up and meet with the Ladies Committee for the Joad's section of the camp. Ma has a conversation with Jim Rawley, the camp manager, and comes to the realization that he and the other people living in the camp are the kind of good people she likes. Ma and Rose of Sharon then meet with the committee and become familiar with the camp's routines and rules, including the fact that those who are truly destitute can get food on credit until they find work.

Pa, Al, and Uncle John set out to look for employment, but their search yields no positive results as they come across signs displaying "No Help Required" and "No Trespassing." A fellow camper informs them that he has been unsuccessful in finding work even after searching for a week. Although Pa is feeling downhearted, Ma remains positive as Tom has been able to secure a job, and she believes that with further effort, something will come up for them too.

Chapter 23
The migrants were desperately seeking employment and doing whatever they could to survive, while also finding enjoyment in simple pastimes. Despite their limited resources, they managed to create their own forms of happiness, such as sharing funny stories, reminiscing about their heritage, and playing the musical instruments they had brought with them.

There are those who would use a portion of their limited funds to watch a movie and subsequently share their experience with others. On the other hand, some folks with little money might resort to drinking and fantasizing about a different life as a means of escape. Alternatively, some people derive satisfaction from hearing a religious leader declare them free of sin, but at the same time, they may secretly desire to know which sins they are allowed to commit.

Chapter 24
The dance preparations commence early on Saturday, and Ezra Huston, the leader of the Central Committee, has enlisted additional members to the team to prevent any potential problems discreetly.

The migrants are perplexed about the landowners' motives for demolishing the camp. Tom receives instructions to remain stationed at the primary entrance with a partner to verify the identity of incoming visitors and prevent any disruptive individuals from entering. Three men, claiming to have been invited by Mr. Jackson, raise doubts and appear suspicious.

Jackson mentions that he had worked with them at a local farm, however, he did not extend an invitation to them for the dance. The committee patiently observes the three, watching for signs of trouble. The situation progresses smoothly until one of the three insists on dancing with another person's partner.

The committee discreetly encircles the group and escorts them away from the dance floor. However, an unknown person has alerted the authorities that there is trouble in the camp, and a group of deputies arrive in a car and seek entry as they believe there is a commotion inside. Upon discovering that everything is calm and there is only soft music playing, they depart but remain nearby.

Huston is confused as to why certain migrants are betraying their own community. One of them justifies their actions by saying that they need to eat, but refuses to reveal who instructed them or acknowledge any compensation received. Despite their betrayal, they are released unharmed over a fence, with a stern warning that any future attempts will result in serious physical punishment.

Later that evening, a different migrant recounts a story about some people from the mountains who were hired as inexpensive labor, but eventually united when the local inhabitants procured weapons and fuel. According to the migrant, 5,000 of these mountain men, each possessing a firearm, marched through the town and were not interfered with. The migrant refers to this event as a "Turkey Shoot" and suggests that the migrants ought to have one as well.

Chapter 25
There was a lot of food growing in California, and scientists had come up with various methods to increase the size, quality, and quantity of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, a significant amount of this food was being wasted because small farmers couldn't afford to have their crops harvested, as the money they received from canneries was insufficient. As a result, their small orchards and vineyards were at risk of being taken over by large corporations or banks.

The only people who could survive were those who owned the canneries. They could do so by purchasing raw materials at low prices, and then selling canned goods at high prices. Canned produce was desirable because it could be stored for years without spoiling. Unfortunately, some of the excess food was deliberately destroyed to keep prices high. This prevented those who were in need of food from being able to get it, and end their hunger. Instead, much of the excess food was left to rot, and the stench of decay spread throughout the state. As a result, anger and frustration grew among those who were hungry. 

The chapter concludes with the line that forms the title of the work: In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Chapter 26
Ma informs the men that action needs to be taken, but they are hesitant to discuss it. She highlights their lack of food and funds, and acknowledges that Tom has been the only one to find any work. Despite Pa's reluctance to depart from the relatively pleasant camp, Ma asserts that they cannot subsist on mere pleasantness.

The group of men is unable to come to a decision regarding their next destination, but despite this, Ma insists that they must leave the following morning. Pa comments to Tom about how in the past, it was always the men who made the decisions, but now it seems that women are taking charge. Ma explains to Tom that she purposely angered Pa in order to motivate him to continue with their plans.

Rose of Sharon expresses concern once more about how the difficulties will impact her unborn child, but Ma manages to encourage her. A few men bid farewell to Pa, while Tom and his companions discuss the possibility of forming a group.

Before daybreak, the Joads depart from their camp, and Ma informs Tom that they need to find a home before winter arrives. While repairing a flat tire on their vehicle, a man approaches them and informs them about a job opportunity to pick peaches just 35 miles away. They continue driving with the aim of finding work that day and discuss their plans on how to spend the money they'll earn.

The Joads encounter police officers who inform them that they will be paid five cents for every crate of peaches they collect. The police lead the Joads through a fenced-off area, amidst a crowd of loud, migrant-looking individuals. Tom inquires about the people, but his question is rebuffed and told to focus on his own affairs.

The Joads then proceed to unload their truck at their designated shed, after which the four men promptly head to the peach orchard to commence their work.

Tom's initial attempt at picking peaches is unsuccessful as the manager deems the first box he picked to be damaged. As a result, he has to begin the process again, taking more time to ensure that the peaches are packed properly. Ruthie, Winfield, and Ma offer to assist him, and with the collective efforts of all seven family members, they manage to earn one dollar for their day's work. However, Ma discovers that the prices at the company store are more expensive than in town, so the dollar they earned isn't enough to provide enough food for the family.

When the woman requests the clerk to provide her with some sugar on credit, promising to pay back the next day from her wages, he declines. Instead, he pays for the sugar himself. Ma emphasizes the importance of seeking help from the poor in times of trouble, stating that they are the only ones who will offer assistance. She observes that despite having spent their entire day's pay on food, they are still hungry.

Tom attempts to investigate the commotion outside the fence, but a guard prevents him from entering through the gate. Undeterred, he decides to walk alongside the fence and sneak underneath it. On the other side, he meets a man named Jim Casy who informs him that the prisoners in his jail were able to improve their food by all shouting at the same time.

Casy is currently striving to organize the migrant workers in order to achieve better conditions. He reveals that those who are outside the fence went on strike when their wages were slashed in half, and they are now being treated very poorly.

Tom shares his own experiences at the government camp with Casy, who expresses his desire to see similar conditions spread everywhere. However, Casy is aware that the wages will be cut in half once again the following day due to the increasing number of people who have arrived to pick peaches.

A group of men come near, causing Tom and Casy to attempt an escape. However, they are pursued and caught. Casy warns them that they are unaware of the consequences of their actions, but one of the men violently kills him with a pick handle. This provokes Tom, who retaliates by using the same weapon to kill the murderer. Although he gets hit in the process, Tom eventually escapes and hides until he can return to the camp.

In the morning, he informs the Joads that he has to depart. However, Ma disagrees and suggests that he needs protection, and the only people he can trust for that are the family members who could hide him.

That day, they manage to gather sufficient peaches to purchase fuel and spend the night carving out a concealed space for Tom inside the truck before departing the camp. While on their way, they come across a sign advertising cotton picking jobs. Tom decides to hide in a culvert close to the cotton field while his parents go to work.

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