The Grapes of Wrath: Novel Summary: Chapter 26

Although life in the Weedpatch camp began auspiciously for the Joads, a month has passed, and hardships continue. Tom has gotten only five days of work; the rest of the familys men have found none. Winfield is ill. Rose of Sharon, whose due date grows ever closer, is not well; increasingly she worries about her baby and herself: “Got no husban! Got no milk!” (For her part, Ma reassures Rose that her baby “gonna be a good baby.”) Although the Weedpatch camp is comfortable, the Joads arrive at the reluctant decision to move on-pressed to do so by Ma herself. As Pa observes, “Time was when a man said what wed do. Seems like women is tellin now.”
The Joads say good-bye to acquaintances in Weedpatch, and move on to the north, where they have heard there is cotton to be picked in Tulare. When the family stops to patch a flat tire, however, a man in a business suit tells them that the Hooper ranch near Pixley is looking for people to pick peaches. He also asks them where he can find others in search of work; they direct him back to Weedpatch. The Joads go on, and Ma-who a few moments earlier had expressed a near-desperate desire for shelter-now excitedly envisions a better life once the family is earning money picking peaches. “I aint really felt so good for a long time,” she declares.
As the Joads near the Hooper ranch, they see cars blocking the road, and a highly visible police presence. Assuming a traffic accident has occurred or that the road is out, they press on; indeed, police escort them through the back-up. Tom finds this disturbing: “Don need four cops to lead us.” He is further unsettled by a bookkeepers refusal, at the Hooper ranch, to explain the police activity. Still, he and his family are glad to learn that they can earn five cents for every box of peaches they pick. Taking up residence at one of the many square houses in rows at the ranch, the Joads go to work immediately, including Ruthie and Winfield. Only Rose of Sharon does not work; Ma tends to Roses needs before joining the effort. Tom discovers that the first box of peaches he has picked is unsuitable; every peach is bruised (or so claims the checker) because Tom simply dumped his buckets of peaches into the box. Working through the day, putting each peach in the box one at a time, the family manages to earn a dollar credit at the ranch store. When Ma shops at the store, she finds that the store charges more for every item than stores in town charge. The clerk attempts to explain that, allowing for the cost of gas which the Joads dont have, his prices arent that high after all. He tells Ma, however, that he does not set the prices; Hooper Ranches, Incorporated does. When Ma asks him how he got his job, he can only say-echoing Joe Daviss boy, echoing the troublemakers at the Weedpatch dance-“A fella got to eat.” Mas pointed reply: “What fella?” Once more, Steinbeck forces readers to consider questions such as: How do we weigh our needs against the needs of our neighbors? To what degree are those needs interconnected? Can ones own needs ever really be met if the needs of others go unmet?
After the days work is done and the family has eaten its hard-earned meal, Tom tries to take an evening walk. A man with a gun prevents him from doing so; amazed that Tom does not know about the “crazy pickets” outside the camp. The commotion the Joads assumed was an accident was, in fact, a labor strike. Back in camp, Tom happens to reunite with Jim Casy. Casy explains that when he and others came to the Hooper ranch on the promise that they could earn five cents per box of peaches, the ranch reduced the wage to two-and-a-half cents a box. Refusing to accept such injustice, Casy and his fellow workers went on strike. He compares the situation to an experience he had while in prison (after the incident in the Hooverville in Chapter 20): when the prisoners were once served sour beans to eat, they started to yell, one by one, until they could not be ignored. They received new and better food. Casy asks Tom if he understands; Tom confesses he doesnt. Casy says-in a virtually verbatim repetition of Mas words to Rose of Sharon in Chapter 18-“Maybe I cant tell you . . . . Maybe you got to find out.”
Unwittingly, then, the Joads and the other newcomers to the Hooper ranch have become strikebreakers. Casy tells Tom to inform his family of the situation: “Tell em theyre starvin us and stabbin theirself in the back. Cause sure as cowflops shell drop to two an a half jus as soon as they clear us out.” Tom promises he will relay the news, although he is not sure how it will be received. Casy is excited to hear about the positive community life at the Weedpatch government camp: “Ya see? . . . I tol you. Cops cause more trouble than they stop.” The stories Tom tells of life in the Weedpatch camp seem to validate Casys faith in human nature, a faith he also heard affirmed by one of his fellow prisoners, who told Casy, “[Y]ou do what you can. An . . . the ony thing you got to look at is that ever time theys a little step foward, she [that is, humanity] may slip back a little, but she never slips clear back.”
As Tom, Casy, and the other men talk, other men arrive, angry at Casy for leading the strike. Caught in the glare of their flashlights, Casy echoes Jesus words from the cross in Luke 23:34 as he tells them, “You fellas don know what youre doin. Youre helpin to starve kids.” Not listening, the men attack Casy with a pick handle, crushing his skull. Tom grasps the club and strikes the head of Casys killer. He then runs into the night, crawling through bushes, and out under the camp fence. Eventually, he returns to his family, but is unable to sleep. When morning comes, Ma notices the injuries Tom sustained during the struggle. She is distraught that he has gotten into a fight, and even more upset when she learns that he has killed a man. Tom also tells his family about the unjust treatment against which Casy and the strikers were protesting. The family hears more cars entering the camp; Tom surmises that the strike has been broken, and that the wages will drop back to two-and-a-half cents-not nearly enough on which to survive: “[A] fella could work at a run, an still he couldn eat.” Tom realizes that he is now a greater liability to the family than before and plans to leave. Ma urges him not to do so. Formerly, she says, the family was clear and whole. “An now we aint clear no more.” Reluctantly, Tom agrees to stay for the time being. Ma tells Tom to get some sleep, and instructs Rose of Sharon to tell anyone who may ask that Tom is sick. Rose, however, doesnt let Tom get much rest; she accosts him for killing the man. She sees the murder as yet one more blow to her babys chances at a good life: “What chance that baby got to get bore right?” The fact that he is upsetting her so much makes Tom think he ought to leave sooner rather than later.
Outside the Joads tent, new laborers arrive. They are given work-at a wage of just two-and-a-half cents. The strike has been broken, and the workers at the Hooper ranch will pay the price-just as Tom suspected, just as Casy warned.
When she returns to the tent, Ma tries to assure Tom that Rose cannot help the way she feels: “Everthing is a-shootin right at you when youre gonna have a baby, an everthing anybody says is an insult, an everthing against you. Dont pay no mind.” Ma desperately wants Tom to stay with the family. More trouble for the family arrives when Ruthie and Winfield return from the days picking; Winfield ate too many wind-blown peaches, and feels sick. He needs milk to drink-as does Rose of Sharon, in preparation for nursing her newborn. Ma must prioritize, virtually performing triage based on who is standing on his or her feet and who isnt. Still, she tacitly acknowledges that the “main thing” the family must “whup” is Toms status as a fugitive from the law. Uncle John reports that posses are looking for Tom, “an theys fellas talkin up a lynchin.” Pa adds that the truth of the event has been distorted: “Theyre sayin [Tom] done it fust,” and not after Casy had been killed. Despite Mas vigorous protests, Tom resolves to leave.
The family once more loads the truck. Tom is smuggled out between mattresses. Once they bluff their way through the Hooper ranch guards, the Joads wonder where they will go next. Rose reminds the family of her impending due date, and says, “They better be a nice place for me.” Ultimately, the family heads north via back roads, so as to avoid unwanted attention. As they travel, they pass a sign advertising a need for cotton pickers. Tom has a plan: the family can, like other cotton pickers, live in box cars, while he hides in the brush near a creek. At night, the family can bring him food. Eventually, he says he hopes he will be able to rejoin them and work with them, once the identifying scars on his face have healed.
The Joad family finds that they have to leave Weedpatch because there is no work within the area. The decision to do so is generated by Ma Joad who appears to be the only one in the family who can make decisions. This marks the decline of the family structure as she is assuming the leadership role which is normally held by the man of the household. Additionally, Al is more interested to think of his own needs than the needs of the family and is ready to go off on his own.
Their next stop, a place called Hooper Ranch, again has a mediocre lifestyle and everyone is disgruntled but at least they have a roof over their heads and work. They dont yet realize that they are being exploited and used to break a strike. This first is realized by Tom when he accidentally meets Jim Casey who has become a labor activist. He tells Tom what is causing the commotion around the Hooper Ranch and at that same moment the police appear and brutally attack and kill Casey. Similarly as when he sacrificed himself for the good of the Joad family and went to jail, he now has sacrificed himself for the good of the migrant class and has died. Tom, who fights back, is able to escape but has now become an outlaw. When Ma Joad hears about this, she does not want Tom to leave and advises him to stay in hiding but with the family in order to preserve the family unity.