The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Chapter 20
Summary

The Joads take Granma to the Bakersfield coroner's office, but find that they can't afford a funeral for her. They go to a camp to ask about work; they ask a bearded man if he owns the camp and whether they can stay, and he replies to them with the same question. A younger man tells them that the bearded, crazy old man is called the Mayor. According to this younger man, the Mayor has apparently been pushed around by the police so much that he's been made bull-simple (or crazy). The police don't want Okies to settle down, for then they could draw relief, organize, and vote. The younger man tells the Joads about the handbill fraud, affirming earlier suspicions, and Tom suggests that everybody organize so that they can guarantee higher wages. Upon hearing this, the young man warns Tom about the blacklist. If Tom is labeled an agitator, he will be prevented from getting work from anybody. Tom talks to Casy, who has recently been relatively quiet. Casy says that the people without organization are like an army without a harness. Ultimately, Casy says that he isn't helping the family out and should go off by himself. Tom tries to convince him to stay, at least until the next day, and Casy relents. However, there are other notes of discontent: Connie regrets his decision to come with the Joads. He says that if he had stayed in Oklahoma he could have worked as a tractor driver.

When Ma is fixing dinner, groups of small children approach, asking for food. The children tell the Joads about Weedpatch, a government camp that is nearby, a place where the cops cannot push people around and where there is good drinking water. Al goes around looking for girls, and brags about how Tom killed a man. Al also meets a man named Floyd Knowles, who tells the Joads that there is no steady work. Al brings Floyd back to the family, and Floyd says that there will be work up north, around Santa Clara Valley. He tells the Joads to leave quietly, because everyone else will follow after in search of the work. Al wants to go with Floyd no matter what.

A little later, a man in a business suit arrives in a Chevrolet coupe. He tells the migrants about work picking fruit around Tulare County. Floyd tells the man to show his license; this (appearing without a license) is one of the tricks that the contractors use. Floyd then points out even more of the dirty tactics that the contractor is using, such as bringing along a cop.

The cop forces Floyd into the car and says that the Board of Health might want to shut down the camp. However, Floyd punches the cop and runs off. Tom aids in the escape by tripping the deputy. The deputy raises his gun to shoot Floyd and fires indiscriminately, shooting a woman in the hand. Suddenly, Casy kicks the deputy in the back of the neck, knocking him unconscious. Casy tells Tom to hide, since the contractor saw him trip the deputy. More officers come to the scene, and they take away Casy, who has a faint smile and a look of pride.

After this scene of chaos, the family takes stock of its situation. Rose of Sharon wonders where Connie has gone. She has not seen him recently. Uncle John, for his part, admits that he has five dollars, which he wants to spend on drink. Yet Uncle John now gives the family the five in exchange for two, which is enough money for him. Al tells Rose of Sharon that he saw Connie leaving the area. Pa claims that Connie was too big for his overalls, but Ma scolds him, telling him to act respectfully, as if Connie were dead. Because the cops are going to burn the camp at night, the Joads are forced to leave. Tom goes to find Uncle John, who has gone off to get drunk, and locates him singing morosely beside a river. He claims that he wants to die; because of Uncle John's difficult state, Tom has to hit him to make him come along. Together, the Joads leave the camp, heading north toward the government camp.

Analysis

The cruelty of the California police is prominent in this chapter, beginning with the introduction of the Mayor. This character has been subjected to continuous torture by the police, a process which has driven him insane. The reason for this torture is simple: such torture is an attempt by the police to prevent the migrant workers from settling in California. If the migrants were to settle down, they could vote and exercise political power. If they have no permanent residence, they cannot organize and threaten the ruling business elites. Yet anybody who opposes the designs of big business is automatically labeled a labor agitator and placed on the blacklist, so that he is prevented from working anywhere. The police can even murder migrant workers, for these laborers have no name and no property, and thus no power.

The family loses one more member when Connie Rivers abandons his pregnant wife. He leaves out of selfishness; he believes that he would have been better off staying in Oklahoma and that he can make a better life for himself away from the Joads. What he does out of self-interest is tantamount to treason for the Joads. Connie reveals himself to be arrogant in his belief that he can attain a middle-class lifestyle. Ma Joad, in contrast, remains the center of authority, generous and just. She gives away some food to starving children even when her family must budget its own food carefully, and even defends Connie, claiming that it is useless to criticize him for leaving.

Connie's selfish behavior is reflected in Uncle John's similar actions. Uncle John has also remained somewhat aloof from the family, keeping five dollars for himself in order to get drunk. However, even when he wishes to behave selfishly, he still makes a sacrifice for the good of the Joads, giving up more than half of his money. Unlike Connie's actions, his behavior is spurred by a heavy sense of guilt rather than a lack of concern for the others.

Nonetheless, there are indications of hope for the Joad family. The government camps are safe terrain for them, since they cannot be bothered or intimidated by police officers and can expect some comforts.

The sudden outbreak of violence is not really an unexpected event, considering the previous accounts of the California deputies' cruelty and Tom's warning that he is still capable of committing violent acts. Yet the fight is not as dramatic as one might predict: Tom does little more than trip the deputy, while Casy knocks the man unconscious. It is the deputy who causes the real havoc, inadvertently shooting an innocent woman. Still, the outcome of the event is significant for Jim Casy. He takes Tom's place as the scapegoat for the crime, sacrificing himself to save Tom. His role in the novel as a spiritual martyr is fulfilled.

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