The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 20 Summary

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

John Steinbeck brings the Joad family to Hooverville in the twentieth chapter of ''The Grapes of Wrath.'' The prospects for jobs are nonexistent, and the inner demons from several family members begin to emerge.


The Joad family faces difficulties and disappointment everywhere they go. When they arrive in Bakersfield, California, they try to provide Granma with a proper burial, as she passed away on the trip there. Because of their financial difficulties, the best coffin they can afford is a basket--anything more and it would 'of took ten times what we got.' Their financial shortcomings drive home the point that they need to find jobs and start earning money.

They travel outside the city and come across an area filled with 'a collection of tents an' shacks.' They pull in to see if they can set up a tent here. The person who greets them is supposedly the leader, or mayor, but he does not answer any of Pa's questions regarding rules or costs that would prohibit them staying. Pa eventually learns that there is nothing that would prohibit them staying.

After this encounter, the eldest son, Tom, becomes acquainted with Floyd Knowles, who fills him in on life in Hooverville. This is the name given to a collection of homeless people living in shabbily-built homes. Floyd tells Tom about life in this area, how jobs are seasonal, and that everyone is looking for one. This means that employers can pay what they want, often times lowering the rate. In addition, the police frequently visit Hooverville and harass the inhabitants in hopes of provoking and arresting those who take offense to their actions.

Possible Jobs

Meanwhile, the other family members set up their tent, and Ma prepares a stew. The smell of the food attracts nearly every kid in the settlement. Most have not had anything to eat today. This makes the Joad family uncomfortable, so they eat in the tent away from the hungry children. Afterward, Ma leaves the kettle out so the kids can clean out the leftovers. This brings Ma into conflict with another parent, who thinks they are trying to show everyone up by eating stew. No one in the settlement has had anything that nice to eat in quite some time.

Tom and Floyd talk again, this time with Al, Tom's brother. They talk about possible places to find jobs, and that the only likely place is up north. Al indicates he wants to go there, even though it is 200 miles away. During their conversation, a new Chevrolet pulls into the settlement. It is a man looking to hire people to work for him. He doesn't say how many men he needs or how much they will earn. This raises Floyd's suspicions.

Floyd questions the man and asks to see his license, which allows him to hire men. The man becomes indignant that anyone would question him. He asks the sheriff to come out of the car and see if he recognizes this man. He indicates that Floyd is 'talkin' red, agitating trouble.' This puts everyone in a difficult spot because they don't want trouble, and had it not been for Floyd, most of the people would have signed on to work. Now the police are involved.


The sheriff says he saw Floyd 'when that used-car lot was busted into,' and Floyd is arrested. However, he assaults the sheriff and flees. The sheriff chases him, but Tom trips him, and Casy, the pastor with the Joad family, kicks him in the neck and watches as the 'heavy man crumpled into unconsciousness.' To keep Tom out of trouble, Casy tells Tom to run off, and he will take the blame.

When the deputies arrive, Casy admits to assaulting the sheriff and is arrested. Once they leave, Floyd and Tom return to the settlement, and Floyd informs Tom that he is leaving, and he should as well. The deputies will come back 'tonight to burn us out.' This place is no longer safe. Tom wants to head south to the government camp, which is more humane, but likely filled. Floyd tells him to go north with him and find work. Tom decides to do what is best for his family, and resolves to head for the government camp.

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