The Grapes of Wrath Quotes

"Every moving thing lifted the dust into the air: a walking man lifted a thin layer as high as his waist, and a wagon lifted the dust as high as the fence tops, and an automobile boiled a cloud behind it." (Narrator, Chapter 1, p. 1- p.2)

This is a description of the Dust Bowl and how the dust permeated everything it touched. The dust is the byproduct of the loss of the topsoil, which caused the destruction of the crops. For without the topsoil the crops could not grow, the farmer could not make a profit, and the bank could not allow the farmer to stay on the land. The dust, caused by years of drought and over farming, was the direct impetus for the migration of so many farmers to California. They had to make a living and because they could no longer farm their land, they went to California to seek the promise of work and high wages. These promises were spelled out in the handbills, which were posted on nearly every pole and store front in the areas affected by the Dust Bowl.

"I'm scared of stuff so nice. I ain't got faith. I'm scared somepin ain't so nice about it." (Ma Joad, Chapter 10, p. 92)

Ma is confessing to Tom her fears about moving to California. She is afraid the promise of high wages and work are not true. This passage foreshadows events, which are about to come for the Joad family. Ma is correct in her fears for the future of her family. The nice times do not come and the family suffers the loss of Grampa, Granma, Rosasharn's baby, along with Noah, Tom and Connie all leaving the family to go their separate ways. Also, the family does not find the promised work and high wages in California. The handbills which made these promises were in fact full of false promises. The landowners were using the farmers' need for work to take advantage of the farmers.

"I tried to tell you fellas," he said. "Somepin it took me a year to find out. Took two kids dead, took my wife dead to show me." (Ragged Man, Chapter 16, p. 197)

The Joads find out, from a person who has firsthand experience, the promise of work and a good life in California may not be true. The man, who is at a campground, is telling the others camped there why he is on his way back home from California. He tells them of the lack of work and more importantly, the loss he suffered from not having any work. His wife and children all starved to death, because he did not have any money to buy food. This makes the others consider how hard it might be to feed their own families, once they arrive in California. He is a man who is dragged down by life and has decided to quit trying, that going home is his only option.

"They were not farm men any more, but migrant men." (Narrator, Chapter 17, p. 203)

A whole new social order had sprung up for the migrants, they had their own rules and regulations, social and moral norms, and leaders. The migrants went from being people rooted to the land, to people who were always on the move looking forward toward California. It changed how they thought of themselves and those who they came in contact with. They looked to each other for support and comfort, which gave them the feeling of being a part of a community that was always on the move.

"They were hungry and they were fierce. And they had hoped to find a home, and they found only hatred." (Narrator, Chapter 19, p. 242)

Once the migrant workers arrived in California, they faced a new set of obstacles. They had hoped to find regular work, rent a house, and live a good life. Instead, they found the local people hated them, because they feared the migrants would take jobs away from them. The store owners also hated them, because they didn't have any money to spend. The landowners, whose forefathers stole the land from its original owners, feared the migrants would try to do the same to them. They knew if people were hungry enough and determined enough they could achieve anything. They knew this, because this is exactly how their forefathers came to own the land they now farm. What the landowners and others did not realize, was the only desire of the migrant workers had was to own a home and make enough money to live a decent life.

"Yeah," said Jule, "an' suppose you got a union? You got to have leaders. They'll jus' pick up your leaders, an' where's your union?" (Jule Vitela, Chapter 26, p. 372)

Tom thought organizing the workers into a union might help the workers. But, Jule thought the police would put the leaders of the union in jail, which would bring about the disbandment of the union. Tom thinks the reason the police stay away from the government camp is, because the people there form a united front against the police. He has been talking to a man who is trying to unionize the migrant workers. The union organizer feels this method would work at the big farms also. Jule is not so sure, he is fairly sure the police would step in and take away the leaders of the union. Later, when Tom and his family are picking peaches, Tom learns Jim Casy is a union organizer. Jim is killed by a man hired by the landowner to break up the union. Tom in turn kills the strike breaker, which causes Tom and the family to flee the farm.

"Ma---Ruthie tol'." (Winfield Joad, Chapter 28, p. 428)

Ruthie Joad told a girl the truth about Tom. She and the girl were arguing, so Ruthie told the girl her brother had murdered two men and was hiding out from the police. Ma does not punish Ruthie, because the girl realizes the harm her remarks will bring to Tom and her family. Instead Ma finds Tom, who is hiding in the brush behind the boxcar the family is living in, and forces him to leave. This changes the family dynamic, because instead of relying on Tom to drive the truck and lead the family to safety, now they must rely on Al. Al has just become engaged and is planning on leaving the family, to start his own family. Now Al has to postpone his marriage and future plans, in order to drive and take care of the truck. Tom is left to his own devices to find refuge, until the police stop looking for him. He promises he will then find the family again.

"Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast. 'You got to,' she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close. 'There!' she said. 'There.' "(Rosasharn, Chapter 30, p. 473)

This is the ending of the book. Rosasharn has given birth the night before to a stillborn child. The family is leaving the boxcar they had been living in, because it is flooded with rain water. They find a barn to take refuge in, but it is already occupied by a boy and his dying father. The father is dying of starvation and is unable to keep any food down. Ma and Rosasharn know he needs milk to keep him alive, which Rosasharn provides him with. She allows the man to nurse from her in an attempt to save his life. The book ends on a note of hope and compassion, because Rosasharn, who has just endured the traumatic loss of her child, finds in herself the strength to put aside her own feelings to save the life of a total stranger.

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