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Floyd in The Grapes of Wrath

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

Tom and Al Joad meet Floyd Knowles when they stay at the same camp while looking for work in California. Floyd has been there for awhile, so he is able to offer some hard truths to the Joads, including the corruption of the system and the need for migrants to help one another.

Floyd's Character and Purpose

Floyd's primary purpose is telling Tom the truth about life as a migrant worker, and washing away any of Tom's illusions. The Joads have arrived in California fairly recently, but Floyd has been there for awhile, and is positioned to offer advice to newcomers.

Lessons from Floyd

The Pamphlet

Floyd indicates several times that there's no work in the area, but Tom insists that there must be, citing the pamphlets advertising work that he's seen everywhere. Floyd explains to him what purpose they serve: 'S'pose they's a hunderd men wants that job. S'pose them men got kids, an' them kids is hungry. S'pose a lousy dime'll buy a box of mush for them kids...' Floyd goes on to explain that high numbers of men are needed because of the nature of the work: each crop is only ripe for picking for a week or two at a time, and during those weeks, a large ranch needs lots of pickers. However, once that picking season is over, the men and their families are on their own.

Why Not Organize?

As Floyd and Tom continue to chat, it occurs to Tom that the people could simply organize and refuse to work until the landowners pay better wages. Unfortunately, Floyd explains, people have already tried that, and it hasn't worked out. Anyone who steps forward as a leader is put in jail, meaning that that person's family will be left to starve. Obviously, this trend deters more people from stepping forward to lead. Furthermore, Floyd warns Tom that if he attacks a police officer, he will more than likely be killed and left in a ditch. As Floyd puts it, 'You got no name, no property. They'll find you in a ditch, with the blood dried on your mouth an' your nose. Be one little line in the paper - know what it'll say? 'Vagrant foun' dead.' An' that's all.' So what is there to do, Tom wonders, if you can't organize and you can't stand up to the police? Floyd recommends finding ways to stick together, helping each other when you can, and looking dumb if the police are around.

Helping One Another

Later in the day, Al meets Floyd and helps him with his car, and, as they chat about cars and girls, another car drives up with some men that Floyd knows. They'd been looking for work, but had not found any. Floyd explains to Al that it makes sense for people to ride around together, since gas costs money; at least if people stick together, they can all pitch in for expenses. When Tom joins them later, Floyd offers Al and Tom a tip: he has heard about work up north, and a few people from the camp are going to sneak out to check it out. They've got to leave in secret, because otherwise everyone will follow and there won't be enough work. Floyd emphasizes that he has only told the Joads about this because Al had helped him out. Much of the Joads' interaction with Floyd underscores the need for people in their situation to work together and help one another, but only to a limit -- unfortunately, if you help everyone, there will be nothing left for you and your family.

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