The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Chapter 28

The Joads are now staying in a boxcar that stands beside a stream, a small home that proves better than any other residence, except for the quarters at the government camp. They are now picking cotton. Winfield tells Ma that Ruthie told got into an argument with some other kids and told them that her brother Tom was on the run for committing murder. Ruthie returns to Ma, crying that the kids stole her Cracker Jack ­-- the reason that she threatened them by telling about Tom -- but Ma tells Ruthie that it was her own fault for showing off her candy to others.

That night, in the pitch black, Ma Joad goes out into the woods and finds Tom, who has been hiding. She crawls close to him and wants to touch him to remember what he looks like. She also wants to give him seven dollars to take the bus and get away. He tells her that he has been thinking about Casy; Tom remembers that Casy went out into the woods searching for his soul, but only found that he had no individual soul, only part of a larger one. Tom has been wondering why people can't work together for their living, and vows to do what Casy had done. He leaves, but promises to return to the family when everything has blown over.

As she leaves Tom, Ma Joad does not cry. However, rain begins to fall. Upon her return to the boxcar, Ma meets Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright, who have come to talk to the Joads about their daughter, Aggie, who has been spending time with Al. The Wainwrights are worried that the two families will part and that they will then find out that Aggie is pregnant. Pa laments leaving Oklahoma, while Ma says that women can deal with change better than men, because women have their lives in their arms and men have theirs in their heads. For women, change is more acceptable because it seems inevitable.

Al and Aggie return to the boxcar, where they announce that they are getting married. They go out before dawn to pick cotton before everyone else and Rose of Sharon vows to go with them, even though she can barely move. When the Joads get to the place where the cotton is being picked, they discover that other families are already present. While the cotton picking continues, rain begins to fall, causing Rose of Sharon to fall ill. Everybody assumes that the young woman is about to deliver her child, but they discover instead that she is suffering from a chill. They take her back to the boxcar and start a fire to get her warm.


The Joads settle once again into a temporary home --­ this time a boxcar --­ but find their routine disrupted one more time when Ruthie reveals the secret about Tom. Significantly, the cause of Ruthie's fight with the other children is arrogance; by eating her candy out in the open, she offends the other children, who are starving. Tom's decision to leave the family is a bittersweet event, but entirely inevitable. By remaining with the family, he would place them in danger and make himself a burden, since he cannot contribute to their labor.

When Tom does decide to leave the Joad family, he does so with a new purpose that is a combination of political and spiritual belief. Tom accepts Casy's teaching that there is no individual soul, only a collective soul of which each person possesses only a part. With these new convictions in mind, he vows to continue Casy's struggle for better treatment of the workers. This is a turning point for Tom, who previously consigned himself to individualistic action for himself and his family but now wishes to work for the common good.

It is Ma Joad who bids farewell to Tom, proving herself once again to be the center of the Joad family. She also changes her own ideals in this chapter; she advises Tom to go alone, abandoning her earlier attempts to keep the family together at almost any cost. She has realized that family unity is insignificant without the greater social unity for which Tom will strive. Furthermore, even though Tom is the character for whom Ma has shown the most affection, she finds that she cannot weep over his departure. Rather, at the moment when she realizes she cannot cry, the rainfall begins -- a natural phenomenon that reflects her emotional state.

Steinbeck suggests in this chapter that women such as Ma Joad are better equipped to handle change and pain than men are. During the course of the novel, the men have often railed against their fates: Uncle John and Connie desert the family, while Grampa dies shortly after he is forced to leave Oklahoma. Ma Joad, in contrast, has accepted the changes she has faced. She explains that women can accept change because, for them, it is inevitable. They do not have the illusion that they control their own destinies, in evident contrast to men. Thus, they are less shaken when they are presented with hardship.

The immaturity that Al Joad has displayed throughout the novel takes a more dangerous edge in this chapter. Mr. and Mrs. Wainwright confront the Joads with the possibility that Al could get their daughter pregnant, leaving her with the burden of a child and little (or no) support. Even the announcement of Al and Aggie's engagement is not especially joyful news, since Steinbeck contrasts the engagement with the pregnancy of Rose of Sharon, who is ready to deliver her child without her husband or any other strong male influence to sustain her.

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