Tom and Casy continue towards Uncle John’s house. Tom has been awoken early by Muley, who fearfully warns them to get off the land by daybreak. As he and Casy walk onward, Tom tells the ex-preacher that Uncle John has been a lonesome character ever since his young wife died suddenly. The night before his wife died, John had ignored her complaints about stomach pain and refused to call a doctor, thinking she had given herself a stomachache from overeating. These days, Uncle John tries to escape his guilt through alcohol, and by living selflessly and giving away most of what he has. For example, John gives treats to children and drops off meals with his neighbors.
Uncle John’s remorse about his role in the death of his wife expands upon the theme of guilt that characters like Tom and Casy have already begun to develop. Unlike Casy, whose guilt drove him towards a more accepting view of humankind, Uncle John’s guilt has pushed him in the opposite direction. John leads a life of extreme opposites. On one hand, he often exercises impressive discipline; on the other, he occasionally plunges into drinking.
The two men arrive at Uncle John’s house. Set up in Uncle John’s yard is a modified jalopy with a truck bed attached, and Tom notices right away that this means his family is getting ready to hit the road soon. Tom comes across his father, Pa, working on the car. Ol’ Tom Joad takes a while to recognize his own son. He is embarrassed not to have written to tell Tom of the family’s plans to go to California, but is excited to hear that his son is home on parole and isn’t a fugitive. Inside the house, Tom’s mother, Ma, mistakes Tom for a stranger and offers him some food. Once she realizes she’s speaking with her son, she, like Pa, immediately worries that Tom is on the lam after breaking out of jail. She also worries that Tom has been harmed by his jail time, but Tom assures her that he isn’t bitter.
Tom’s interactions with his mother and father show that the Joads are accustomed to moving on in the aftermath of misfortune. While Ma and Pa are evidently happy to see their son, their inability to recognize him, and Pa’s failure to contact him, make it clear that the family was entirely prepared to leave Tom behind. That they all think he may have escaped from prison is a testament to their relationship to law enforcement but also a subtle indication of their assessment of Tom’s strength and capabilities.
Grampa Joad, disheveled and mischievous, appears to greet Tom; Grampa is followed by his wife, Granma Joad. Tom’s older brother, Noah, also comes to say hello. Noah, Pa Joad’s first-born, is strange-looking, emotionally distant, and apathetic. Noah was delivered by Pa himself when a midwife couldn’t arrive in time, and Pa blames his mishandling of the baby for Noah’s strange looks and demeanor.
Tom seems to be much more of a natural leader than Noah, despite being younger. Pa’s guilt about Noah’s deformations adds still further to the overarching theme of shame and guilt, and shows that while the Joads are good at moving on, they can never leave their past deeds behind completely.
The Joad family and Casy sit down for breakfast, and Granma insists that Casy say grace. Casy is uncomfortable speaking about Jesus, and gives a long-winded account of his secular spiritual awakening, which ends with: “I’m glad there’s love here.” The family remains sitting as if in prayer until Casy remembers to say “Amen,” which ends the grace like clockwork.
The Joads’ faith seems to be much more of a ritualistic practice than a sincere belief. Granma in particular seems to care only that grace was said, not the actual substance of Casy’s prayer.
Finally, Tom inquires about the other members of his family. Uncle John has gone into town with Ruthie and Winfield, Tom’s youngest siblings. Rosasharn (short for “Rose of Sharon”), Tom’s sister, is now pregnant and living with her husband, Connie Rivers. Pa shows Tom the car they bought and fixed up with the help of Al, Tom’s sixteen-year-old brother. Soon after, Al struts into the yard. However, his swagger quickly fades when he sees Tom is home. Al’s behavior makes it clear that he deeply respects and admires Tom.
Tom is clearly a role model for Al. Even though Tom’s homecoming places Al lower in the family pecking order, the younger brother is happy to see Tom’s return.