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The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

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Student Question

Why does Ma feed the children in chapter 20 of The Grapes of Wrath, and how does the other mother react?

Quick answer:

Ma feeds the little ones at the Hooverville camp because they are standing around the stewpot looking hungry. She finds out they haven't eaten that day. She lets them scrape what leftover stew there is in the pot because she feels sorry for them. The other mother comes over angrily and accuses Ma of putting on airs by feeding her son stew. She says her son is now asking why his own family can't have stew.

Expert Answers

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When the family arrives at their first Hooverville, Ma decides to make a stew with potatoes and a chicken neck. Other children in the camp come and stand around the stew pot. Ma finds out that none of them have eaten that day. She says she doesn't have stew enough to go around. She explains she has to feed her own family. Nevertheless, the children stay, staring at the pot.

Ma feels bad for them for being so hungry, so she sends her own family in the tent with their bowls of food, then tells the other children that if they get spoons or sticks, they can scrape what little is left from the pot, as long as they don't fight. She warns them they each won't have more than a taste. The children come back with their implements and get what they can from the pot, scraping the bottom until there is nothing left.

A mother comes over angrily and asks why Ma gave her son stew. The mother says that her son is now complaining about why his own family can't have stew. The woman accuses Ma of putting on airs. Ma tries to explain it is the last stew her family will have for a long time, saying:

We didn't have enough, but you can't keep it when they look at ya like that.

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