Tom Joad, Jr., is released from the Oklahoma state penitentiary where he served a sentence for killing a man in self-defense. He travels homeward through a region made barren by drought and dust storms. On the way, he meets Jim Casy, a former preacher; the pair go together to the home of Tom’s family. They find the Joad place deserted. While Tom and Casy are wondering what happened, Muley Graves, a die-hard tenant farmer, ccomes by and discloses that all the families in the neighborhood have gone to California or are going. Tom’s folks, Muley says, went to a relative’s place to prepare for going west. Muley is the only sharecropper to stay behind. All over the southern Midwest states, farmers, no longer able to make a living because of land banks, weather, and machine farming, sold or were forced out of the farms they tenanted. Junk dealers and used-car salesmen profiteer on them. Thousands of families take to the roads leading to the promised land: California.
Tom and Casy find the Joads at Uncle John’s place, all busy with preparations for their trip to California. Assembled for the trip are Pa and Ma Joad; Noah, their developmentally disabled son; Al, the adolescent younger brother of Tom and Noah; Rose of Sharon, Tom’s sister, and her husband, Connie; the Joad children, Ruthie and Winfield; and Granma and Grampa Joad. Al has bought an ancient truck to take them West. The family asks Casy to go with them. The night before they start, they kill the pigs they have left and salt down the meat so that they will have food on the way.
Spurred by handbills that state that agricultural workers are badly needed in California, the Joads, along with thousands of others, make their tortuous way, in a worn-out vehicle, across the plains toward the mountains. Grampa dies of a stroke during their first overnight stop. Later, there is a long delay when the truck breaks down. Small businesspeople along the way treat the migrants as enemies, and, to add to their misery, returning migrants tell the Joads that there is no work to be had in California, that conditions are even worse than they are in Oklahoma. The dream of a bountiful West Coast, however, urges the Joads onward.
Close to the California line, where the group stops to bathe in a river, Noah, feeling he is a hindrance to the others, wanders away. It is there that the Joads first hear themselves addressed as Okies, another word for tramps. Granma dies during the night trip across the desert. After burying her, the group goes into a Hooverville, as the migrants’ camps are called. There...
(The entire section is 1054 words.)