Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1803
Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright: migrants who have little left but their pride who share living space in a boxcar with the Joads
Aggie Wainwright: their daughter who will marry Al Joad
There was cotton to be picked and willing hands to pick it. The wages weren’t bad and they knew cotton, having picked it back home. They bought a collecting bag and paid for it with the first part of their labor. It was hard, tiring work. They dragged the big bag and filled it. Even the kids helped fill it. And they talked and sang as they worked. The bag got heavy. They got paid by the weight. The boss said they put rocks in it, and they said his scale was crooked. Each was right at times. It was good work, with money and meat at the end of each day. But there were thousands arriving to do the work of hundreds and the fields were picked clean rapidly. And winter was coming fast and there would be no work then.
Being among the first to reach the cotton field, the Joads get to live in one-half of a boxcar rather than a tent. With the money they earn, they are able to buy new clothes and eat meat every night. But when Ma buys some Cracker Jacks as a special treat for Ruthie and Winfield, Ruthie gets into a fight over them with another girl. She threatens the girl by telling her about Tom killing two men and hiding nearby.
When Ma learns of this, she immediately goes to meet Tom. He takes her to the cave where he has been hiding. Ma tells him he has to leave and asks what he will do. Tom says that hiding had given him a lot of time to think. He has been thinking about Casy’s idea about everyone being part of one big soul and one man’s little piece of the soul wasn’t so good unless the rest was whole.
Tom feels he has to finish the work Casy started, so he will try to organize the people. When Ma reminds him Casy was killed, Tom says he will duck faster than Casy did. When Ma wonders if she will ever see him again, Tom tells her she will see him everywhere around her, anywhere people are in need or trouble or fighting for a better life.
On her way back to the boxcar Ma meets a man who says he needs people to pick the cotton on his small 20 acres the next day. He tells her of his problems with The Association setting wages. When she gets back, the Wainwrights, who share the boxcar, tell the Joads they are worried about Al getting Aggie, their daughter, pregnant and possibly bringing shame on them. Ma says Pa or she will speak to Al. Later Pa tells Ma he isn’t any good anymore. All he can do is think about the home he’ll never see again. He says, “We got nothin’ now,” and “Seems like our life’s over and done.” But Ma refuses to believe this and says they will go on.
Al tells them he and Aggie are going to get married and live in a town where he will get a job working on cars. The two families celebrate together and decide to go pick the cotton together. They get there early but so do many other people and the field is picked clean before noon. By the time they get back to the boxcar, rain is pouring down and Rose of Sharon is having chills.
Grey clouds formed over the mountains and the rains began slowly and then increased. Water collected in puddles, then ponds, and then lakes in low places. Rivers and streams flowed over their banks. The flood engulfed the tent homes and the cars. The people sought higher ground and crowded there in despair. Men and boys went out and begged or stole food, not even running if shot at. The women watched the men for signs of a break again. They saw fear turning to anger. They knew that, as long as this turn from fear to wrath continued, the break would never come.
Al covers the motor of the truck as the rains continue. The Joads and Wainwrights, now one family, wonder if they should leave but since they are still dry and Rose of Sharon is getting sicker, Pa decides to build an embankment to hold back the flood waters and goes to get other men to help.
He returns and finds Rose of Sharon in the labor of childbirth. He tells the men that for this reason they must build the embankment. They work frantically into the night as the water rises. They succeed in blocking it until a tree is uprooted and punches a hole in the bank and the water floods the entire area. Al rushes to move the truck but it will not start and has to be abandoned in the flood waters.
Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn. Pa wonders what he could have done. When he goes out, Mrs. Wainwright comes over to give Ma some rest. The women talk about helping each other and Ma says, “Use’ ta be the fambly was first. It ain’t so now. It’s anybody. Worse off we get, the more we got to do.”
Pa, Al, and Uncle John gauge the water to see if it will flood the boxcar. They use part of the truck bed to build a platform above the floor. Mrs. Wainwright asks them to bury the dead child. While it is against the law for them to do it, they can’t do anything else. Uncle John starts to bury it and then just lets it float away in the stream.
Pa gets some bread and bacon for breakfast and tells Ma he spent all the money they had left for it. They all huddle on the platform as water covers the boxcar floor. The next day Pa brings 10 potatoes. They eat these and spend another night.
The next day Ma decides it is time to go. She tells Al, who is going to stay with Aggie, to watch their belongings until they can return. With Pa carrying Rose of Sharon, Uncle John carrying Ruthie, and Ma carrying Winfield, they wade through the flood waters.
Ma sees a barn that she thinks will be dry and they go to it. In the barn they find dry hay and also discover a boy huddling over a man lying on his back. The boy tells them that his father is starving, and when he stole some bread his father vomited it up. He says the father needs soup or milk. Ma takes the wet clothing off of Rose of Sharon and wraps her in a dry blanket she gets from the boy. She looks at Rose of Sharon with a question in her eyes and Rose understands and nods her agreement. Ma takes the others out of the barn and Rose of Sharon puts the dying man’s head to her milk-filled breasts.
Discussion and Analysis
Chapter 27 moves the action again to a new place and sets the scene for what the Joads will experience while picking cotton. Conditions are somewhat improved. There is a respite from hunger. However, this will not last because there are still more people than the available work requires.
As their condition grows worse, the Joad family disintegration continues. Tom leaves and Al announces he soon will too.
With winter coming there will be no more work for the Joads. Thus nature, as it was in the beginning, becomes their hostile environment. Once again severe weather conditions drive them from a home. The drought caused by lack of enough rain began their troubles and set them on their long, arduous journey and their struggles to find a good life. This time it is heavy rains and flooding that drive them out. In fact, the flood takes what little else they have left. The truck becomes as useless as their farming implements had and it too has to be abandoned. They are in a final desperate struggle just to survive.
Tom will enter a great struggle of his own choosing. Earlier Jim Casy asked him to go among the people in the peach orchard and talk to them about what was happening and what could be done. Though his wrath was growing like that of all the migrants, he was not then fully ready to be Casy’s emissary. But now he too has been in the wilderness thinking, and has come to understand and adopt Casy’s idea that all men are part of one big thing and need to be together. He has completed his personal journey from self-interested individual to member of a family to part of the whole of humanity. Now he feels he must go out and organize the whole for the good of all. He will be the disciple who takes Casy’s idealism and puts it into action.
Tom, having just come out of the prison, had refused to sleep in a cave on the old Joad farm. Having killed again, he hides in the thicket which is as dark as a cave. It is here that he comes to his decision to carry on Casy’s work. His emergence from this womb-like cave, with a new direction to his life, can be seen as a symbolic rebirth for him.
Rose of Sharon’s stillborn baby can be seen as a symbol of her stillborn dream of a nice house and family. Further, it can symbolize the lack of fruition of the dreams of the Joad family for the better life they have traveled so far to find.
Ma echoes Tom and Casy when she tells Mrs. Wainwright that now everybody is important, not just her own family and, like Tom, she expresses the idea that the poor people will go on and survive the struggle by standing together. Her belief, and Tom’s determination to get the common people to stand together, offer a hope for the future.
There are other rays of hope. The men find something they can do that is worthwhile and take action together to build a wall against the flood. The women see the signs of anger that indicate the men will not break. Al and Aggie will try to fulfill the dreams Connie and Rose of Sharon had. And in a final act of sharing, Rose of Sharon accepts Ma’s suggestion and performs an act usually done in the intimacy of the family to give life to a fellow human being in need.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support