Chapters 16 – 20
Granma’s health now worsens after Grampa’s death.
The Wilson’s car breaks down again and Tom and Casy suggest they stay behind
to try and fix it, but Ma Joad refuses to split the family up. Instead the whole family waits together while Tom and Al go to the nearest town to find parts for the car. Al idolizes his brother and wants
him to tell about his life in prison, but Tom wishes to keep this private.
They arrive at a crowded camp where the main conversation of course is about
the work to be had in California. One of the men says that the wealthy farmers needed around 800 workers so they thought that printing 5,000 handbills would provide them with enough labor.
Instead, 20,000 are going to California looking for these few hundred jobs.
The man says that his family starved to death because there was no work for
them and this worried Pa, but he may be just telling lies to put people off going.
These traveling communities were like the first pioneers who opened up the
West. After the hot days of traveling they would sit around their campfires discussing mutual acquaintances, family histories, the state of the local water and singing songs.
At the border of Arizona guards tell them stories about how the migrant
farmers are being treated cruelly in California. The farmers are given the derisive nickname ‘okies’.
The Joad family is fast running out of money. Granma is near death and
Sairy Wilson is dying of cancer.
Noah leaves the family telling Tom that he knows his parents do not love him
as much as the other children.
They are now at the edge of the desert and must prepare for this arduous
crossing. They are getting short of supplies and money and have no option but to go forward.
Although Granma and Sairy are too sick to travel, they cannot stop so they start the trip while Rose of Sharon and Connie lie in the back of the truck and make love.
eventually reach the lush pastures of western California where Ma
informs the rest of the family that Granma is dead. The family
has to bury her a pauper since they are out of money.
In California, they stop at a camp filled with other migrants. There
they meet Floyd Knowles to explains to them that there is no work
and the wages are down. He says that the police will arrest anyone
they don't like. Connie and Rose talk about their future. Later,
Connie leaves the tent and never comes back leaving his pregnant
During the evening, an employer comes to the camp promising work.
Floyd, however, knows the system and that the employer is trying
to get a lot of workers so he can lower the wages. The employer
came prepared with a cop who tries to arrest Floyd but Floyd punches
him and runs. As the cop runs after Floyd, Tom trips him and the
cop shoot toward Floyd's direction hitting a bystander and shooting
off her fingers. Casy them comes along and kicks the cop in the
neck knocking him out. Everyone runs except Casy who turns himself
in as the troublemaker. The cop threatens that he will burn down
the camp at night
Uncle John, feeling the pressure, goes off and gets drunk.
When he is later found by Tom in a ditch he is forced to knock him unconscious in order to get him home.
Things are starting to fall apart for the Joad family and it is only Ma who
is able to keep them all together.
The Joad’s are coming up against the reality that California is not the
Promised Land, and all that they encounter is hostility and prejudice.
Wherever they turn, there is no work and very little money left to buy food. People in the same position more and more crowd their surroundings.
Granma and Grampa are now both gone and Granma’s body is left at the
Coroner’s office without a family funeral.
As Okies they have no control over their lives and their status is as the
bottommost rung of society. The term Okie today seems almost a term of endearment, but in the 1930’s it was an insult, almost a racial remark.
There is deep resentment from the locals to the migrant workers, but
originally this land was part of Mexico, taken over by squatters who came from the East.
They became rich owning large tracts of fertile land, but now need workers to harvest their crops, and as there is a surplus of labor, they can pay as little as they like. It is there own greed and thoughtlessness that has contributed to the current situation where there are thousands of people for every hundred jobs that become available.
There are also the beginnings of an organized workers’ union as illustrated
by the scene with Knowles, Tom and Casy.
The landowners using the police rigidly suppress this movement and Steinbeck sees this as the great moral challenge for Tom and others to face. For this cause, Jim Casy will die and Tom Joad will devote the rest of his life.
The Joad family is becoming smaller with deaths of the grandparents and the
departure of Noah and Connie.