The Joads are in poor shape after a month in the government camp. Winfield is very ill, and Tom has been the only man able to find work. Ma Joad insists that they leave the next morning. Pa is indignant that a woman is telling him what to do. Ma dares him to beat her impudence out of her, and Pa backs down, embarrassed.
Once again, Ma asserts her dominance over her husband. Although tradition dictates that men have familial authority, the de facto situation for the Joads shows Ma’s clear control.
Rosasharn complains that she is undernourished and worries for her child. Ma gives Rosasharn her gold earrings, and pierces her daughter’s ears for her.
Ma’s gift is a huge sacrifice. it shows that the Joad women are still aware of beauty, even in their wretchedness.
Before the Joads leave, Tom sits with his friends from the Weedpatch camp. Tom concludes that the secret to the camp’s success and independence is that the migrants work together; the police are powerless against a collaborative effort.
Tom is coming to realize the profound power of the unity that Casy preaches. His belief in the value of organized labor is growing stronger.
The family leaves camp early in the morning. After some time on the road, they pause to fix a tire, and are approached by a gaudily-dressed man who offers them work picking peaches nearby. On the way to the worksite, Al deliberately runs over a gopher snake, and Tom reprimands him.
The peach-picking contractor’s fancy clothing is an ominous sign of greed. Tom’s condemnation of hurting harmless animal shows that Tom has matured since his own snake-killing episode a few chapters previous.
Arriving at the peach-picking compound, the Joads drive past a police blockade and protesting groups of migrants. They discover that they’ll receive only five cents per box of peaches. After a day’s work, the family has taken in little more than a dollar.
The Joads are strike-breakers, working against the efforts of their own people. Worse yet, they themselves are hardly compensated for their toil.
The family’s dollar must be spent at the company store, which charges inflated prices for food. The day’s wage isn’t enough to feed the Joads. Ma asks the shopkeeper to give her ten extra cents worth of sugar. He agrees to loan her the money, and she leaves furious at being extorted, saying “If you're in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people. They're the only ones that'll help—the only ones.”
The peach-picking operation is designed to take advantage of the captive workers. The shopkeeper’s insensitivity to the needs of a fellow human being further diminishes Ma’s faith in the kindness of those more fortunate.
After nightfall, Tom sneaks out to learn more about the strike outside the compound. He comes across a tent, and finds Casy inside. Casy informs Tom that he’s become an advocate for the workers, and that the strike is taking place because the peach-picking rate was set at two and a half cents. He predicts that the Joads’ rate will soon drop to that number.
Casy has translated his religious awakening into a political one. Human unity offers not only spiritual value, but can also be used to improve living conditions for the migrant laborers.
Men with flashlights approach Casy and Tom. One of them swings a pick handle at Casy, striking him in the head and killing him. Tom seizes the pick and strikes the murderer in the head. Tom runs away, but takes a blow to the head as he escapes.
Tom’s righteous fury compels him to kill Casy’s murderer. The injury he receives will make him recognizable to the police, and he will have to hide until he heals.
Tom returns to the tent. The next morning, he explains to the entire family what happened with Casy. That day, the men go to work while Tom hides in the tent. When the workers come home, they reveal that their pay has dropped to two-and-a-half cents per box, as Casy predicted. The family decides to leave the camp, and Ma is adamant that Tom come with them. Pa resents her dominance but agrees.
Ma’s love for Tom is strong enough that she is willing to risk the entire family’s safety. Moreover, Ma is again shown as the dominant voice in Joad family life, much to Pa’s humiliation.
The family moves into a boxcar near a plantation. Tom sets up camp in a culvert nearby, and Ma plans to secretly bring him food.
Like Casy earlier, Tom must now spend time in the wilderness alone.