The Grapes of Wrath

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The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The family takes Granma’s body to the coroner’s office. Pa and Uncle John are ashamed to be unable to afford a proper funeral ceremony.
Pa and John feel guilty that their circumstances prevent them from honoring their dead.
Themes
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
Tom meets another young man, Floyd Knowles. Floyd tells Tom that the large farms operate by widely distributing handbills, which creates a huge supply of workers. Since they are so desperate to work, these laborers accept rates like 15¢ per hour. Tom suggests that men try to strike, and Floyd tells him that anyone who tries to coordinate such action will be labeled a “red” and be placed on a “blacklist,” which guarantees they won’t be hired. Floyd then explains that the police are corrupt and unsympathetic. He encourages Tom to act “bull-simple” around cops; that is, play dumb to avoid confrontation.
Tom gains a better idea of the prejudices that the migrant workers face within a biased system. Floyd’s advice to act “bull-simple” is designed to give the authorities the impression that the migrant workers are subhuman and content in their wretchedness, and therefore pose no threat. It means that those in power won't actively try to destroy the poor, but they may still treat these "animals" with casual cruelty.
Themes
Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
Rosasharn and Connie argue about their future. Connie remarks that if he had known things would be as bad as they are, he would have become a tractor man and gotten paid three dollars a day.
Connie lacks the perseverance of the Joads. He is far more ready to sacrifice his morals for his own comfort.
Themes
Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
Hungry children walk around the camp and watch Ma Joad prepare dinner. One of them tells Ma about a government camp that offers comfortable amenities to migrants; it is hard to find vacancies in these camps. Ma saves a small amount to give to the children, even though the Joads don’t have enough for themselves.
Ma shows that she is generous, perhaps even to a fault. The mention of the government camp introduces a goal that will figure into the Joads’ later plans.
Themes
Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
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Floyd tells Tom and Al that he’s heard of work up north in Santa Clara Valley. As the men debate the benefits of driving two hundred miles to the worksite, a contractor drives into the town in a new Chevrolet. The contractor offers the men work, but refuses to give a firm price when Floyd pressures him. The contractor, sensing the threat Floyd poses, gets the deputies that arrived with him to arrest Floyd. As a deputy leads Floyd to a car, Floyd attacks him. The deputy tries to pursue Floyd, but is tripped by Tom. The deputy tries to shoot Floyd, but hits a woman instead, crippling her hand. Casy then knocks the deputy unconscious. Casy urges Tom to run away, which Tom does. When reinforcements arrive, Casy takes the blame for the crime, and is taken off by the police.
This is the first scene of outright corruption that Tom witnesses. Tom’s righteousness compels him to defend Floyd, even though it puts himself in danger. Casy, in turn, makes a very Christian self-sacrifice in order to protect Tom—he martyrs himself to save his friend.
Themes
Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Theme Icon
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
Seeing Casy give himself up to protect Tom causes Uncle John anguish, and John needs to get drunk to cope with it. Ma and Pa give him permission to go.
Ma and Pa understand John’s suffering, and they know that he lacks the strength to remain disciplined at all times.
Themes
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
Tom returns to his family. He tells Pa that they need to leave, because the camp will likely be burned tonight. Rosasharn cannot find Connie, and Al reveals that he saw him walking south along the river—he has abandoned the family. Pa denounces Connie as arrogant, but Ma urges the family not to speak ill of Connie, since he is still the father of Rosasharn’s child.
Connie is the fourth member of the Joads’ original party to be lost. While Pa is preoccupied with petty anger, Ma realizes that the most judicious thing to do is to avoid speaking ill of Connie, since doing so will only hurt his future son. She's always looking out for the family.
Themes
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Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Theme Icon
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon
Family, Friendship, and Community Theme Icon
Tom goes to look for Uncle John. Tom discovers his uncle singing hymns off the side of a road. John doesn’t want to leave with the family, so Tom knocks him out as gently as possible and brings him back to the camp.
Uncle John’s singing of hymns reaffirms that his black-and-white spiritual dogma is rooted in Christian principles of guilt and salvation.
Themes
Faith and Guilt Theme Icon
On their way out of the camp, the family warns the “mayor” of the camp to leave. The mayor shamefully says he won’t be able to get his things together in time. After the family leaves him behind, Tom says that the mayor has become subservient after being oppressed by the police; he is “cop-happy” and “bull simple.”
The mayor represents the result of institutional oppression. He has lost the willpower to stand up for himself against the corrupt system, and will continue to be oppressed because of this.
Themes
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Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon
As the Joads drive to a nearby town, they reach a blockade of men carrying pick handles and shotguns and wearing old military helmets. One of the men comes up to the window of the family’s car and tells them to turn around, saying that they don’t want to see Okies in their town. Tom smells alcohol on his breath. Tom turns the car around and tries to stop himself from crying. Tom drives around the town and continues south, deciding to look for the government camp.
Tom’s powerlessness before the hostile mob reduces the usually strong and silent man to tears. This is one of the most profound displays of emotion in the entire book, and it illustrates the debilitating frustration that baseless oppression causes.
Themes
Humanity, Inhumanity, and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Theme Icon
Powerlessness, Perseverance, and Resistance Theme Icon