The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 20

SummaryAfter arranging for Granmas burial through the local coroners office-depleting further their already low supply of money-the Joad family arrives at a Hooverville. One of its residents tells Tom why there is little work to be had, even though the land owners distribute thousands of handbills advertising for laborers: the huge number of desperate people responding to the ads allows the land owners to pay the workers less. An outraged Tom suggests that the workers should strike: “Wouldn be long fore the price went up, by God!” The resident warns him that such talk of workers uniting will land him on “the blacklist,” and he will never be able to find employment. Tom sums up the bleak situation: “So we take what we can get, huh, or we starve; an if we yelp we starve.” He resolves that he will not take such treatment. The resident warns Tom not to look for any trouble.
Meanwhile, as Ma prepares stew for her family, a large number of hungry children from other families gather around the pot. Although she at first protests that she doesnt have enough food even to feed her own-“I cant rob the fambly”-Ma eventually shares what little she does have with the hungry children.
The experience of the Hooverville seems to be sapping Connies dreams of their vitality: “If Id of knowed it would be like this I wouldn of came. Id a studied nights bout tractors back home an got me a three-dollar job.” In other words, Connie now feels he would rather have become “Joe Daviss boy” (see Chapter 5). He denies to an alarmed Rose of Sharon that he is giving up his dreams; ultimately, however, he will disappear, leaving the family-including his own unborn child-and will not be seen in the novel again.
Floyd Knowles-the Hooverville resident to whom Tom talked earlier-has heard that there will be work the next morning in Santa Clara Valley, some two hundred miles distant. He proposes that he, Tom, and Al sneak away early, so they will not have to compete with as many people for the jobs. Tom knows that Ma would not approve; such a move would be yet one more force conspiring to break up the family.
Men arrive in the Hooverville looking for men to work as fruit pickers. They refuse to say exactly how much they will pay. Floyd accuses the contractors of dishonesty, and says he has already been tricked twice by employers who pay less than they should because they know the workers are hungry and desperate. He demands to see the contractors licenses. The contractor asks a police deputy if he (the deputy) has ever seen Floyd before. The deputy accuses Floyd of breaking into a used-car lot a week before. When he tries to arrest Floyd, Tom protests. The deputy warns him that Tom could find himself in legal trouble, as well: “They was two fellas hangin around that lot . . . . [and] maybe youre wanted someplace else.”
Floyd attacks the deputy. A fight ensues, during which Casy kicks the deputy in the neck just as the deputy is about to shoot Floyd. After the fight, Casy urges Tom to leave so as to avoid capture for breaking parole. Tom leaves to hide among the willows lining the river. The other men scatter; only Al and Casy remain. Casy tells Al that he intends to take the blame for the fight. When other police arrive and ask the deputy to identify Casy, the deputy cannot, but Casy insists he was the instigator of the brawl. The police take Casy away. He has, in a sense, sacrificed himself for the people of the Hooverville.
The preachers selfless act moves Uncle John to make a confession: he has been keeping five dollars to himself, out of the familys money, in order to get drunk at some point, as a defense against the inner pain he feels. John sees in Casy a man who has done what he himself could not do: “Come a time when I coulda did somepin an took the big sin off my soul . . . An I slipped up.” He leaves to get drunk, claiming he cant get through the night any other way.
Fearing that the Hooverville will be burned that night, the Joads prepare to leave. Rose of Sharon reluctantly and tearfully begins to come to grips with the fact that Connie has left her. Tom finds Uncle John, who is drunk. He-like so many characters in this novel before him-now claims that he will not be going with the rest of the family. Tom delivers a strong blow to Johns chin, knocks him out, and carries him back to the others. When he takes John back to the camp, he finds that Rose of Sharon, too, does not want to go on, as she is still grieving Connies departure. She clings to a feeble hope that he will return. Ma convinces Rose to change her mind; Tom assures her that he has left word with a nearby store clerk for Connie (which he has, although neither he nor anyone else in the family believes that Connie will find them). Once more, the Joads set out on the road, ever on the move. As they drive, Tom tells his Ma: “They comes a time when a man gets mad.” Ma reacts to this statement with alarm. Tom tells her he has tried to remain true to his promise to avoid anger, but he cannot take continued assaults on his dignity.
One such assault follows hard on the heels of this conversation. A crowd of men stop the Joad truck, telling them they are headed the wrong way: “We aint gonna have no goddamn Okies in this town.” Tom backs the truck up, all the while restraining his sobbing, in pain because his dignity has again been attacked. Once more, readers witness dehumanization. Yet at the same time, Ma affirms the familys humanity: “Why, Tom-us people will go on livin when all them people is gone.” She advocates continued patience: “Why, were the people-we go on.”
The Joads come face to face with the cruelty of the police towards the migrants when they meet the “Mayor” in the Hooverville campsite. He is an example of this as he has been beaten and forced to constantly be on the move to prevent him and his family from establishing permanent residency. This strips him of his voting rights and he cannot gain any power or be a threat to the community. The Joads also realize that the police can accuse innocent men and arrest them on the spot.
The family is further diminished when Connie Rivers leaves Rose of Sharon.
When Casey takes the blame for what Tom did, he willingly sacrifices himself so that the Joad family would remain unharmed. With this act he pays them back for their kindness that they extended to him.
A ray of hope emerges when Ma Joad finds out about the government sponsored camp for migrants and how clean and decent their facilities were kept.