Al deftly and vigilantly guides the Joads’ old, laden-down car westward. He is in tune with the car’s every noise and vibration, and listens attentively for any signs of malfunction. As he drives, he asks Ma whether she is scared of traveling to a new place. She is quick to reply that she isn’t anxious about the future because she can’t do anything more than cope with the present.
Ma Joad has learned to carry herself with confidence and composure, even in the face of uncertainty that unsettles the rest of her family. Her bearing exemplifies the type of stoic optimism that the Oklahomans need in order to overcome their difficult circumstances.
The Joads grow thirsty, and their radiator requires water. The family pulls up at a run-down gas station with a water faucet. As Al pulls up to the faucet, the station’s portly proprietor comes out, and doubts that the Joads have any money to pay for gas. Al assures him that the family isn’t begging, and Tom is indignant at the attendant’s assumption. The attendant explains that most of the people who stop at his station are migrants who can’t afford to buy anything—the rich people in new cars stop at the corporate gas stations in the nearby town. Once he notices Ma Joad, the fat man cuts short his complaints about poor migrants, and instead commiserates about the sorry state of the country.
The gas station attendant’s assumption that the Joads have come to beg deeply offends Tom’s honor. As this chapter and previous ones show, Oklahoman migrants are very determined to remain self-sufficient and resent when charity is directed their way.
Tom snaps at the fat man for speaking unsympathetically of the migrants. Then Tom notices the attendant’s pathetic attempts to paint his pumps yellow, like the higher-class stations, and realizes that the entire gas station is in a poorly-disguised state of disrepair. Tom apologizes and sympathizes with the fat man’s position.
This scene clarifies the cycle of mistreatment that the migrants experience. The larger gas stations hurt this gas station attendant, and in turn, he makes the migrants suffer. Tom’s insight into this cycle makes him treat the fat man like a human being.
As the Joads refuel, their dog is struck and killed by a passing car. The big, new vehicle only slows down briefly to survey the damage it has done before speeding off. Rosasharn worries that watching the dog’s gory death might hurt her unborn child. The gas station attendant promises to bury the dog, and the Joads continue on.
The dog’s death is an ominous indication of the difficulties of the Joads’ coming journey. A still worse omen is the fact that the culpable driver doesn’t even stop to apologize, despite being aware of the harm that’s been done.
The Joads drive through the town of Bethany and decide to stop for the night near a couple, Ivy and Sairy Wilson, who are stopped because their car broke down. The Joads and the Wilsons interact tersely at first, but become fast friends once Tom appeals to the Wilsons’ hospitality.
The hospitable interactions between the Joads and the Wilsons restore hope in human kindness and brotherhood, after a disheartening series of events.
Soon after the Joads stop to camp, Grampa begins to feel ill, and the Wilsons let him relax in their tent. Grampa’s condition worsens quickly, and he dies of a stroke. Casy, at Granma Joad’s behest, offers a Christian prayer for Grampa, and the Joads throw together a slapdash funeral with the Wilsons’ help. Pa and Uncle John debate reporting Grampa’s death legally, which requires a forty dollar fee, but ultimately decide to bury him illegally.
Casy’s prayer for Grampa recalls the grace he gave earlier: it’s a token gesture meant to appease Granma. Pa and Uncle John’s reluctance to dump Grampa’s body illegally show their strong sense of honor, and their choice to do so illustrates just how financially desperate they are
Because the Wilsons lent Grampa their tent and allowed their blanket to be used as a shroud, the Joads reimburse their debts by giving them money for a new blanket, and Al repairs the Wilsons’ car. The two families then decide that it might be helpful to set out for California together, and the Wilsons agree to take some of the Joads in their car.
The Joads’ strong sense of honor is evident in their purposeful attempts to repay the Wilsons for their kindness. This consideration solidifies the bond between the families, and they’re now unified enough to travel together.