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The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

THE STORY CHAPTER 28

Being in the right place at the right time often makes a difference in people's lives. The Joads, by a stroke of good luck- which they probably deserve by now- arrive in the cotton country of California just when the harvest begins. They are assured of many weeks' work. And they move into one end of a spacious railroad boxcar.

For days they eat right and have money left over for a few new clothes. Tom is safely concealed in nearby willows. Uncle John's thoughts turn away from his troubles and toward whiskey again, but he resists the urge to drink himself into a stupor. Rose of Sharon, growing ever rounder, has all the milk she can drink.

Al Joad finds a girl who's even closer than next door. She's Aggie Wainwright, who lives with her family at the other end of the boxcar. Al and Aggie fall for each other quickly. Mrs. Wainwright, worried that Al will soon go off leaving Aggie pregnant, pleads with Ma Joad to keep a tight rein on Al. Al's wanderlust never becomes an issue, though, because Al and Aggie announce their intention to marry. If the Joads leave when the cotton's finished, they'll go without Al.

Good fortune for the Joads, as we've seen before, lives a short life. One day, Ruthie gets embroiled in an argument over a box of Cracker Jack with some other children. She threatens to get her big brother, who has killed two men and is now in hiding, to beat them up.

To some, Ruthie's threat may sound like a child's bragging, not to be taken seriously. But someone else might start to poke around, looking for signs of a killer-in-hiding. There's no doubt now that Tom must leave.

Ma goes to Tom in the willows. Isn't there tragic irony in the situation? Ma, whose primary aim in life has been to keep the Joads together, delivers the word to the son she loves most that he must go his own way.

Since we have noticed that Tom has become more and more like Casy throughout the book, his reaction to Ma's news can't be a total surprise. Like Casy, Tom has now spent time alone in the wilderness. He's thought about Casy's ramblings, especially how "a fella ain't no good alone." He's ready to take up the cause that Casy died for, to walk in Casy's shoes.


As he says to Ma, "I'll be all aroun' in the dark, I'll be ever'where- wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there.... I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'- I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build- why I'll be there. See?" Although he admits to sounding much like Casy, Tom is too strong an individual to be a carbon copy of his mentor. We can be sure that Tom will carry on his fight for the people in his own way.

If you've puzzled over Casy's belief that no one has a soul of his own, but that everybody's got a piece of a great big soul, you're not alone. Tom has worked at it, too. And finally, he's come up with a sensible explanation: Casy went into the wilderness to find himself. What he found instead was an understanding that he could not isolate himself from others if his life were to have meaning. In other words, his piece of soul was no good unless it was with the rest and was whole. Casy's- and now Tom's- realization drove him to spend his life being with other people and crusading to bring them together.

Tom has thought deeply about Casy. Ma's response, that Casy "was a good man," suggests his philosophy is all beyond her. "I don' un'erstan'," Ma says. "I don' really know."

Perhaps she doesn't grasp ideas in Tom and Casy's terms, but she certainly does in her own.

In the end, Ma, Tom, and Casy are three of a kind. All give generously of themselves, but each in his or her own way. They embody the novel's main theme and carry Steinbeck's message to his readers.

Soon after Tom takes his leave, the weather changes. Serious storm clouds move in and a damp cold settles on the land. Trying to beat the rain because wet cotton can't be picked, a local cotton farmer puts out a call for as many workers as he can find. The whole family joins in, including Rose of Sharon. In her condition, she shouldn't be out in the fields, but she insists on going. By midday the job is done, but not before brisk winds and rain chill the workers to their bones.

Wet and cold, the Joads retreat to their boxcar and huddle around the wood stove. Rose of Sharon, weak to begin with, has developed a high fever. As the chapter ends, the rain beats steadily on the roof.  

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