“If you're in trouble, or hurt or need - go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help - the only ones.” ― Chapter 26
One of the motifs of the novel is proving that lack of money does not equal a lack of principles. Poor people have their own sets of cultural rules and regulations. These rules and standards apply in many situations: among neighbors, among friends, among family, between a few strangers, between a large group of strangers, in an established community, and expectations for the entire socioeconmic group among themselves.
A clear example of this system of cultural principles is the story of Albert Rance in Chapter 6. As Jim Casy and Tom Joad look around the now-abandoned home, Casy recalls an event regarding the Joads' former neighbor:
Albert Rance took his family, kids an' dogs an' all, into Oklahoma City one Christmus. They was gonna visit with Albert's cousin. Well, folks aroun' here thought Albert moved away without sayin' nothin'—figgered maybe he got debts or some woman's squarin' off at him. When Albert come back a week later there wasn't a thing lef' in his house—stove was gone, beds was gone, winda frames was gone, an' eight feet of plankin' was gone off the south side of the house so you could look right through her. He come drivin' home just as Muley Graves was going away with the doors an' the well pump. Took Albert two weeks drivin' aroun' the neighbors' 'fore he got his stuff back."
Casy scratched his toes luxuriously. "Didn't nobody give him an argument? All of 'em jus' give the stuff up?"
"Sure. They wasn't stealin' it. They thought he lef' it, an' they jus' took it. He got all of it back—all but a sofa pilla, velvet with a pitcher of an Injun on it.”
In Chapter 10, Ma must remind Pa of the rules and expected behavior of their people when the family must decide whether to bring Jim Casy with them as they are packing to leave for California:
Pa said, "I aim to get those pigs salted down to eat on the way. We gonna need meat. Carry the salt kegs right with us. But I'm wonderin' if we can all ride, an' the preacher too. An' kin we feed a extra mouth?" Without turning his head he asked, "Kin we, Ma?"
Ma cleared her throat. "It ain't kin we? It's will we?" she said firmly. "As far as 'kin,' we can't do nothin', not go to California or nothin'; but as far as 'will,' why, we'll do what we will. An' as far as 'will'—it's a long time our folks been here and east before, an' I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin' food an' shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked. They's been mean Joads, but never that mean."
Pa broke in, "But s'pose there just ain't room?" He had twisted his neck to look up at her, and he was ashamed. Her tone had made him ashamed. "S'pose we jus' can't all get in the truck?"
"There ain't room now," she said. "There ain't room for more'n six, an' twelve is goin' sure. One more ain't gonna hurt; an' a man, strong an' healthy, ain't never no burden. An' any time when we got two pigs an' over a hundred dollars, an' we wonderin' if we kin feed a fella—" She stopped, and Pa turned back, and his spirit was raw from the whipping.
In Chapter 13, the migrant Joads must deal with the death of Grampa, but the hardship of being on the road does not absolve them of the rules regarding death. Casy, the former preacher, is asked to speak over the body before burial. Although Casy is no longer a believer, he recognizes the need for the continuity of cultural beliefs and acquiesces:
Pa said, "Won't you say a few words? Ain't none of our folks ever been buried without a few words."
"I'll say 'em," said the preacher.
Connie led Rose of Sharon to the graveside, she reluctant. "You got to," Connie said. "It ain't decent not to. It'll jus' be a little."
Between a Few Strangers
An example of cultural kindness and principles among the poor can be found in Chapter 15. A family of migrants pause at a truck stop. Two children accompany their father into the diner, and hungrily eye the peppermint candy sticks for sale at the counter. Their father, obviously in dire financial straights, inquires about the cost anyway:
"Is them penny candy, ma'am?"
Mae moved down and looked in. "Which ones?"
"There, them stripy ones."
The little boys raised their eyes to her face and they stopped breathing; their mouths were partly opened, their half-naked bodies were rigid.
"Oh—them. Well, no—them's two for a penny."
"Well, gimme two then, ma'am." He placed the copper cent carefully on the counter.
The boys expelled their held breath softly. Mae held the big sticks out.
"Take 'em," said the man.
A trucker at the counter overhears the waitress’s kindness:
Big Bill wheeled back. "Them wasn't two-for-a-cent candy," he said.
"What's that to you?" Mae said fiercely.
"Them was nickel apiece candy," said Bill.
"We got to get goin'," said the other man. "We're droppin' time." They reached in their pockets. Bill put a coin on the counter and the other man looked at it and reached again and put down a coin. They swung around and walked to the door.
"So long," said Bill.
Mae called, "Hey! Wait a minute. You got change."
"You go to hell," said Bill, and the screen door slammed.
Mae watched them get into the great truck, watched it lumber off in low gear, and heard the shift up the whining gears to cruising ratio. "Al—" she said softly.
He looked up from the hamburger he was patting thin and stacking between waxed papers. "What ya want?"
"Look there." She pointed at the coins beside the cups—two half-dollars. Al walked near and looked, and then he went back to work.
Between a Large Group of Strangers
Even when there is often less than enough for the immediate family, the poor still care for one another. When the Joads arrive at a camp in Chapter 20, they find it full of hungry children. Ma tries to ignore the multitudes of wide eyes watching her every move as she prepares a thin pot of stew for her family but ultimately she cannot shut them out. Finally, she speaks to one of the girls:
Ma slipped the twigs under the pot and the flame made a puttering sound. "Didn' you have no breakfast?"
"No, ma'am. They ain't no work hereabouts. Pa's in tryin' to sell some stuff to git gas so's we can get 'long."
Ma looked up. "Didn' none of these here have no breakfast?"
Ma ladled stew into the tin plates, very little stew, and she laid the plates on the ground. "I can't send 'em away," she said. "I don't know what to do. Take your plates an' go inside. I'll let 'em have what's lef'. Here, take a plate in to Rosasharn." She smiled up at the children. "Look," she said, "you little fellas go an' get you each a flat stick an' I'll put what's lef' for you. But they ain't to be no fightin'." The group broke up with a deadly, silent swiftness. Children ran to find sticks, they ran to their own tents and brought spoons.
In a Community
When the Joads finally arrive at Weedpatch, the government camp that provides basic human comforts such as running water and flushing toilets, standards and rules become even more important. This is especially true when, in Chapter 24, the peaceful community is almost infiltrated by outsiders who do not want the migrants in their hometown. Troublemakers are sent to start fights; disruption of order would give the authorities legitimate cause to oust the campers. The men work together to make sure this does not happen and one of their members explains why the event is so important to the community:
Jule said, "These here dances done funny things. Our people got nothing, but jes' because they can ast their frien's to come here to the dance, sets 'em up an' makes 'em proud. An' the folks respects 'em 'count of these here dances. Fella got a little place where I was a-workin'. He come to a dance here. I ast him myself, an' he come. Says we got the only decent dance in the county, where a man can take his girls an' his wife.”
As a Socioeconomic Whole
Although there are dozens more examples of community rules and standards, this affirmation from Tom Joad, as he is forced to abandon his family and go into the world alone, sums up the motif of standards, proving once and for all that the poor are far from lawless and definitely abide by a set of clear morals. Tom becomes the voice for all the poor and displaced.
I'll be ever'where—wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'—I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build—why, I'll be there.