The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 19 Summary

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Chapter 19 of 'The Grapes of Wrath' takes a close look at what it means to own land. Not the dictionary definition of 'own,' but what ownership does to a person's soul. The chapter also explores why the migrants do not rise up and fight for their needs to be met.


Chapter 19 opens by describing how California once belonged to Mexico but was stolen by Americans. The Mexicans were afraid and left because they did not want it as desperately as the Americans. Once the Americans stole the land, they protected it with weapons. This, explains our narrator, is what possession does to people. As these people created families, their children who grew up on the land grew comfortable and lost the need or desire to care for the land. They became businessmen; they saw the crops as dollar signs instead of as a way of life.


The farmers hired laborers and treated them poorly. They justified it by saying that the workers would not know what to do with a better wages, better food, or nicer accommodations. When the farms started to become industrialized, the workers were sent back home or killed, or they ran away. The farms become more like businesses instead of farms. The people who owned them were completely out of touch with what happened on the farm.

Similarly, when when the workers in Oklahoma eventually lost their jobs, they all traveled west, where they were mistrusted and even hated. Some townspeople hate them because the migrants are hungry and it makes the townspeople feel bad or guilty. In addition, some of the ''town men, little bankers, hated Okies because there was nothing to gain from them. They had nothing.'' In other words, some people hated the migrants because they did not have money and this meant they could not buy things from shops or invest in banks.

Two Needs

The migrants were very different from the Californians. They only wanted land and food ''and to them the two were one.'' To put it another way, the migrants wanted land so that they could live and grow food and survive. Sometimes a migrant would sneak onto an empty field and plant vegetables and sneak in at night to care for them. If the cops found out, they would destroy the crops and kick the man off the land. Some of the men talk about taking a large plot of land and fighting to stay on it, but they agree that would be futile; they would be shot ''like rats.''

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