Essay, Research Paper: Grapes Of Wrath By Steinbeck

Literature: Grapes of Wrath

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As Tom Joad hitchhiked his way home after a four-year stay in prison for killing
a man in a fight, he met up with Jim Casy, a former preacher who was returning
from a sojourn in the "wilderness," where he had been soul-searching.
Tom invited Jim to walk with him on the dusty road to the Joad family farm, and
to stay for dinner. Arriving there, he saw that "the small unpainted house
was mashed at one corner, and it had been pushed off its foundations so that it
slumped at an angle." The farm was deserted. Muley Graves, a near-by tenant
farmer, told Tom that his family had moved to their Uncle john's house: " .
. . They was going to stick it out when the bank come to tractorin' off the
place." A long drought was making barren ground out of what had once been
fertile farmland. Early the following morning Tom and Casy walked the eight
miles to Uncle John's farm. As they approached, Tom saw his Pa working on a
truck in the yard. Pa's "eyes looked at Tom's face, and then gradually his
brain became aware of what he saw." With Tom's homecoming, the Joad family
unit was complete. Now Ma and Pa, the pregnant oldest daughter Rose of Sharon,
and her husband Connie, Grampa, Gramma, and all the rest started packing: they
were all "goin' to California" to start over as fruit pickers. Like
thousands of other displaced tenant farmers, the Joads, spurred on by the
promise of good wages and sunshine, sold what they could, bought a used car and
headed out on Highway 66, "a people in flight, refugees from dust and
shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership."
After the supplies and tools were loaded into the old Hudson, which teen-aged Al
load had converted into a truck, the Joad family and Casy (twelve people in all)
squeezed into what little space was left and started west. During the first
overnight stop, Gramma suddenly was hit by a stroke and died. They buried him on
the roadside. Soon the loads met up with the Wilsons, a married couple with a
broken-down car. After Al had fixed the vehicle, Ma and Pa joad invited the
Wilsons to travel with them. "You won't be no burden. Each'Il help each,
an' we'll all git to California," Ma said. The two groups "crawled
westward as a unit", suffering along the way from too little money, not
enough food, dilapidated vehicles, profiteering junk dealers and overpriced
replacement parts. Eastward-bound migrants warned the travelers that working
conditions in California were bad; but they still pressed on toward the
"promised land." Crossing the border into California, the family
camped next to a river that ran parallel to the town of Needles. They'd wait
until nightfall to cross the desert. As Tom, Noah and Pa sat down in the shallow
river water to wash off the road grime, they were joined by an itinerant father
and his son who aprised them of the treatment they could expect in California:
"Okie use'ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means you're a dirty sonof-a-bitch.
Okie means you're scum." Later that day, Tom's aloof and backward brother
Noah notified him that he was staying to live by the river, and then wandered
away. That evening, after saying good-bye to the Wilsons, the Joads began the
last leg of their journey. Early during the desert crossing, Gramma quietly
died, but Ma waited until they reached Bakersfield before she told anyone. After
another roadside burial, the family drove on into a "Hooverville" -
one of many designated migrant camps opened during the Depression. Like other
Hoovervilles, it was a haotic community; "little gray tents, shacks, and c
cars were scattered about at random." But the Joads elected to stay. On
their first evening in the camp, two men in a shiny sedan drove up, a labor
contractor and a local sheriff. The contractor had come out to offer jobs to the
migrants, but when he declined to reveal the actual wage he was prepared to pay,
a fight ensued. Tom and Casy got in the middle of things and managed to knock
the sheriff out cold. since Tom was on parole and couldn't afford any more
trouble, Casy ordered him to hide while he stayed behind to give himself up in
Tom's place. That night, before the family drove away, 1"ose of Sharon's
husband sneaked off, abandoning his wife and soon-to-be-born child. From the
Hooverville, sounds of shouts and screams could be heard as the clattering old
Hudson crept away in the night. The loads headed south toward Weedpatch, where
they had heard a government camp was located. Once there, they were immediately
struck by how different this camp was from the Hooverville. Clean showers with
hot water greeted them; indoor toilets, and the best Saturday night dances in
the county. The camp's inhabitants had the right to make their own rules and
elect their own leaders. Unfortunately, though, there was no work in any of the
surrounding areas. The children began having dizzy spells from hunger, and with
Rose of Sharon near to giving birth, they had to make a decision: they left the
camp on their last tank of gas. As the worn-out vehicle beaded north, the loads
met a man who pointed them to possible work on the Hooper ranch near Pixley.
When they finally reached the ranch, however, they found themselves in the
middle of a heated dispute. A row of policemen held back picketing strikers, who
shouted and cursed at the "scab" peach pickers crossing their lines.
But the Joads didn't care they were hungry. Everyone except Ma and Rose of
Sharon, who stayed behind to clean their filthy new home, straightway went to
work. Before nightfall, the men and children had earned one dollar among them,
and Ma took their note of credit to the company store, where she was able to buy
a little hamburger, bread, potatoes and coffee' After eating his scanty dinner,
Tom ambled down through the brush along the highway to investigate what all the
commotion was about. He came upon a tent. To his surprise, he discovered that
Casy the preacher was one of the main agitators. Casy gave Tom the lowdown:
"We come to work there. They says it's gonna be fi' cents .... We got there
an'they says they're payin'two an'a half cents .... Now they're payin'you five.
When they bust this here strike - ya think they'll pay you five?" Tom was
about to return to the ranch when suddenly he beard "guys comin' from ever'
which way." Everyone scattered for cover, but Tom and Casy were intercepted
by two deputies. "You fel]as don'know what you're doin'," protested
Casy. "You're helpin'to starve kids." The nearest deputy snatched up a
pick handle and cracked Casy's skull, killing him. in a fit of passion, Tom
wrenched the club free and clubbed the deputy to the ground. As he bolted from
the confusion, he received a deep gash on his face but managed to make it back
to the ranch, where he hid out. As the family worked on, the strike was broken,
and just as Casy had predicted, the pay for peaches dropped to two-and-a-half
cents a box. Soon, all the peaches were picked, and once again the loads set
out. Luckily, they happened on some work picking cotton. While they camped with
other migrants in abandoned boxcars along a stream, Tom, still hunted by the
law, stayed a few miles down the road in a clump of trees. At last the joads
were making enough money to eat properly. Then the littlest girl, Ruthie, made a
mistake: during a fight with another girl, she threatened to get her big
brother, who had "already kil't two fellas. . . " That evening, Ma
took Tom his dinner, told him about Ruthie's words, slipped him seven dollars
that she had saved, and urged him to leave - for his own and the family's sake.
Tom hugged Ma and promised he would carry on Casy's work of improving the
worker's plight.
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