Despite their destitution, Okies are shown to be extremely conscious of maintaining their honor. No matter how dire their circumstances, the Joads are unwilling to stoop to accepting charity or stealing. When they do accept help, they are quick to repay the debt—for example, when the Wilsons offer Grampa Joad a deathbed, Al repairs their car and Ma replaces the blanket used to shroud Grampa. With this strong sense of honor comes an equally powerful notion of righteous fury: when Okies are wronged, their anger is what gives them the strength to press onward. Toward the end of the book, when California’s winter floods threaten the Okies’ livelihood, Steinbeck writes that “as long as fear could turn to wrath,” the Okie families would be able to continue their struggle.
Dignity and wrath are a defining part of Okie culture. For instance, Steinbeck describes a migrant family that is unwilling to pay anything less than the sticker price for a meal at a restaurant, because to pay less would be no better than stealing. The organization of the government camp also highlights this culture of self-sufficiency. Annie Littlefield, one of the organizers of the women’s committee, remarks that “we don't allow nobody in this camp to build theirself up that-away [by giving charity to others]. We don't allow nobody to give nothing to another person. They can give it to the camp, an' the camp can pass it out. We won't have no charity!” Finally, their justified anger at being wronged by the establishment is what motivates Casy and Tom to organize against the powers that oppress them, in the hopes of improving their community’s welfare.
The Okies’ honorableness is also meant to contrast with the unscrupulous conduct of wealthier people. “Shitheels,” as the affluent are sometimes called, are known to steal from hotels, just as banks and industrial farms extort the masses for everything they’re worth. Through his descriptions of the dignity and morality of Okie culture, Steinbeck glorifies their humble, self-sufficient lifestyle and denounces the greed of the upper classes.
Dignity, Honor, and Wrath ThemeTracker
Dignity, Honor, and Wrath Quotes in The Grapes of Wrath
Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole.
Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves.
“If on’y they didn’t tell me I got to get off, why, I’d prob’y be in California right now a-eatin’ grapes an’ a-pickin’ an orange when I wanted. But them sons-a-bitches says I got to get off—an’, Jesus Christ, a man can’t, when he’s tol’ to!”
To California or any place—every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness. And some day—the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they'll all walk together, and there'll be a dead terror from it.
And now they [the Joads] were weary and frightened because they had gone against a system they did not understand and it had beaten them.
“It ain't kin we? It's will we?” …As far as ‘kin,’ we can’t do nothin’, not go to California or nothin’; but as far as ‘will,’ why, we’ll do what we will. An’ as far as ‘will’—it’s a long time our folks been here and east before, an' I never heerd tell of no Joads or no Hazletts, neither, ever refusin’ food an’ shelter or a lift on the road to anybody that asked. They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean.”
Fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.
Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other…the danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one.
“It don't make no sense. This fella wants eight hundred men. So he prints up five thousand of them things an' maybe twenty thousan' people sees 'em. An' maybe two-three thousan' folks gets movin' account a this here han'bill. Folks that's crazy with worry.”
And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.
The great companies did not know that the line between hunger and anger is a thin line.
“They're gettin' purty mean out here. Burned that camp an' beat up folks. I been thinkin'. All our folks got guns. I been thinkin' maybe we ought to get up a turkey shootin' club an' have meetin's ever' Sunday.”
The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quick-lime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
“But now I been thinkin' what he said, an' I can remember—all of it. Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an' he foun' he didn' have no soul that was his'n. Says he foun' he jus' got a little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain't no good, 'cause his little piece of a soul wasn't no good 'less it was with the rest, an' was whole. Funny how I remember. Didn' think I was even listenin'. But I know now a fella ain't no good alone.”
And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right—the break had not come; and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath.
Tiny points of grass came through the earth, and in a few days the hills were pale green with the beginning year.
“Go down an' tell 'em. Go down in the street an' rot an' tell 'em that way. That's the way you can talk. Don' even know if you was a boy or a girl. Ain't gonna find out. Go on down now, an' lay in the street. Maybe they'll know then.”