The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 18

SummaryThe Joads and Wilsons cross Arizona and arrive in California, but must still cross the desert before arriving at their “promised land.” Although Pa talks optimistically of another California, “a country flat an green, an with little houses like Ma says,” Tom breaks his fathers idealistic reverie by exclaiming, “Jesus Christ, Pa! This here is California!” The brief exchange foreshadows the disillusionment awaiting the Joad family.
Before crossing the desert, the Joads and Wilsons stop at an encampment beside a river, where they meet more people who are traveling in the opposite direction, leaving California. These disappointed and angry people tell the Joads about the derogatory term “Okies”, saying, “Okie use ta mean you was from Oklahoma. Now it means youre a dirty son-of-a-bitch.” They also acknowledge, however, that the Joads will have to experience life in California for themselves: “I cant tell you nothin.” When Pa asks if California is at all nice, the emigrants tell them, “Sure, nice to look at, but you cant have none of it.” They tell of the land owners who possess millions of undeveloped acres of land, acres which could be supporting hard-working, land-loving families, but which instead are only increasing the owners wealth. They speak of the arrangement as though it is unnatural-which, of course, to “Okie” eyes, it is. Casy wants to know why a man would amass such an amount of land. The ones leaving the state speculate that such a man must be either crazy or afraid to die. This explanation evokes Jesus parable about the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21); indeed, although Casy protests that he “aint tryin to preach no sermon . . . I never seen nobody thats busy as a prairie dog collectin stuff that wasnt disappointed.”
Noah confides privately to Tom that he does not intend to go on with the rest of the family. He says that, although his parents are nice to him, they dont really care for him. Tom tries to change Noahs mind, but Noah is determined. He will stay in and with the cool water in which he has been resting. Tom watches Noah leave until Noah disappears from view, following the river downstream.
As Granma lies dying, women to adhere to a Holiness sect (they identify themselves as “Jehovites,” a designation which may or may not refer to Jehovahs Witnesses; Mas comment that Jehovites are “howlers an jumpers” describes general charismatic traditions, not any specific practice of the Jehovahs Witnesses) come to the tent with the same cry on their lips that, earlier in the novel, Granma had on her own: “Praise God for victory.” Ma is not comforted by the pious sentiment that Granmas “dear soul [is] gonna join her Jesus.” She makes the women leave, refusing to allow them to have a worship meeting in the tent. Instead, the women begin a meeting back at their own tent. As they sing, and then burst into a noise described as “hysteria,” Granma seemingly joins her voice to theirs, before falling asleep. Ma wonders if she was wrong to refuse the Holiness womens offer, since “{i]t done Granma good” after all. Rose urges her to ask Casy if the refusal was a sin. Ma says she will, but also speculates that Casys presence may be rubbing off on her: “Maybe its him made me tell them people they couldn come here. That preacher, hes gettin roun to thinkin that what people does is right to do.” Before they go to sleep, Rose complains that she has not seen Connie for some time. She again tells Ma of Connies plans to study at night in order to better their lives. His new thought, in fact, is to study electricity. Ma only admits, with a chuckle, “Connies thinkin all the time.” (By the time the Joads move on to cross the desert, Connie has returned.)
As Ma is falling asleep, a police deputy enters the tent, demanding that the “goddamn Okies” clear out of the camp. He says they are not welcome in California. Frightened, Ma calls for Tom and tells him that the policeman threatened to “run [them] in” if they remain until the next day. Ma fears that Tom would hit the policeman, attracting the unwanted attention of law enforcement; he has, after all, broken his parole. Tom agrees that he probably would have “took a sock at that cop.” Ma admits she “nearly hit im with a skillet” herself, she was so angered by his use of the epithet “Okie.” Tom tells Ma about Noahs departure. Sadly, Ma observes, “Familys fallin apart.” Hurriedly and full of resentment, the family prepares to move on.
Ivy tells the Joads that he and Sarah will not be moving on with them. Sarah is too sick. Pa protests, saying, “Maybe we better wait an all go together,” but Ivy tells him, kindly, “This aint none of your business. Dont you make me git mean.” Ivy asks Casy to go into the tent to see Sarah. Casy does so. Inside the tent, she asks Casy to say a prayer for her. Casy tells her, “I got no God.” Sarah insists, “You got a God. Dont make no difference if you don know what He looks like.” (Again, see Chapter 4 for Casys key speech in determining the image of his God in the novel.) And Sarah says that what really matters is that someone is close enough to her to pray. She wanted to feel that human closeness once more. She feels she cannot tell her husband, because the knowledge that she is dying will make him too sad. She shares her final moment of human connection with Casy, telling him of the way she sang as a little girl, and wishing that Casy could have heard her sing. After hearing a last, simple “Good-by” from Casy, Sarah Wilson dies.
The Joads move on. A service-station attendant marvels at the courage it must take to cross the country in an old jalopy like theirs; Tom responds, “It dont take no nerve to do sompein when there aint nothin else you can do.” He and the rest of his family do not hear the comments of the attendants assistant, who dehumanizes the Joads and other migrants like them by saying, “They [the Okies] aint a hell of a lot better than gorillas.”
As the truck moves across the desert, Connie and Rose of Sharon get each other “excited”; Uncle John seeks absolution from Casy, who refuses to grant it-he will not label Johns actions toward his (Johns) late wife as sin, for Casy believes “[a] fella builds his own sins right up from the groun”-and Ma speaks soothing words to Granma, telling her, “You know the family got to get acrost.” The family is stopped, however, by police officers near Daggett for an “agricultural inspection.” Ma protests the delay vigorously, insisting that the family must get its “sick ol lady” to a doctor. Seeing Granmas condition, the officers allow the Joads to continue. Once the family is past the desert, however, and while the others are enjoying golden morning views of their “promised land,” Ma admits that Granma died during the night, before the inspection. Ma remained silently beside Granmas corpse for fear that the death would prevent the family from reaching its destination. Casy tells John that Ma is “a woman so great with love-she scares me.”
Steinbeck again makes another critique of a society in which possessions are valued over people, in which the wealthy are rich in material things, but not-borrowing Jesus words in Luke 12-in the things of God (although recall that Steinbeck seems to reject orthodox religion in favor of a philosophy exalting the interconnectedness of human beings as the ultimate good and ultimate truth; see Casys speech in Chapter 4).
With the episode at the service station, Steinbeck further develops the theme of dehumanization begun in Chapter 5. In this instance, however, the dehumanizing forces are not the subtleties of economics, but the blatant cruelties of prejudice and hatred.