The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 22

SummaryThe Joads arrive by night at a federal government camp for migrants in Weedpatch. In Weedpatch, the residents govern themselves, electing a Central Committee to make and enforce rules for life in the camp. The camp has running water and dances every Saturday night. Weedpatch is a veritable paradise in comparison to the Hooverville of Chapter 20.
On the familys first morning in Weedpatch, Tom is invited by a group of men to work with them on a pipe-laying team. He is awed that they would actively seek to have them join their work crew, since his presence means the temporary employment will end that much sooner. The work team gets bad news when it reports for duty: Mr. Thomas, their employer, has been ordered by the Farmers Association to reduce their wages from thirty to twenty-five cents an hour. Mr. Thomas regrets the pay cut, but in order to keep his farm, must bow to the pressure of the Association, which is owned by the Bank of the West-which is yet another manifestation of “the monster” (see Chapter 5). Mr. Thomas also tells his pipe-layers that the Hooverville at which the Joads had just been staying was burned to the ground; reports in the newspaper blamed communist (“red”) agitators. He also warns his workers that the police plan to “clean out” the Weedpatch camp at the next Saturday dance. When Tom asks why, Mr. Thomas explains the authorities cynical reasoning: “Those folks in the camp are getting used to being treated like humans. When they go back to the squatters camps theyll be hard to handle.”
Back at Weedpatch, the rest of the Joad men go out in search of work while Ma and Rose of Sharon get the tent ready for a welcoming visit from the camps womens committee. Ma tells Rose of Sharon that here she does not feel ashamed: “Why, I feel like people again.” A woman-readers learn later that her name is Elizabeth (“Lisbeth”) Sandry-who regards herself as one of the last true “deep down Jesus lovers” in camp warns Rose of Sharon against taking part in the “clutch-an-hug dancin” and play-acting at the Saturday celebrations; she tells Rose that another young mother joined the dancing and suffered a miscarriage as a result of her “sin.” This woman did not share the camp managers definition of sin (which would no doubt resonate with Jim Casy), that “sin is bein hungry . . . [and] bein cold. Says-I tell ya, he tol me hisself-cant see God in them things.” When a worried Rose talks to the manager, he tells her the woman “likes to make trouble” and urges Rose to pay her no mind.
The Joad men cannot find work; indeed, they find only placards at farms turning prospective workers down before they can apply. Disheartened, they return to Weedpatch, where Ma has had her own run-in with Mrs. Sandry. When Mrs. Sandry says she can see Rose of Sharons unborn child “a-burnin” in hellfire, Ma almost becomes violent. The camp manager calms Ma and makes her promise not to attack Mrs. Sandry, in a scene doubtless designed to remind readers of Mas similar pleas to Tom. Like her son, Ma is experiencing the pressure of anger.
In this chapter Steinbeck is affirming the power of humanity in the midst of the dehumanizing situations he has portrayed throughout the novel. The camp manager at Weedpatch treats the migrants with respect and the people who live there are decent towards each other.
Through the episode between Rose of Sharon and Mrs. Sandry, Steinbeck repeats a question that recurs in the book: Where, in such a life as that faced by the Okies (and, by extension, by all who suffer), is God to be found? As Casy asked earlier in the novel, what is holy?
When Ma Joad relates her experience with Mrs. Sandry to the camp manager, Steinbeck again raises the question: when is anger an appropriate response to dehumanization (as Mrs. Sandry has reduced Ma and Rose to “sinners” fit only for damnation), and how should that anger be expressed?