The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 21 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 21 of 'The Grapes of Wrath' looks at how the mass migration of people from Oklahoma affected the places where they settled. Find out how the migrants were received and what the results were by reading on.


If you have ever submitted a resume to a job and worried about how you stack up, you will be able to relate to what the townspeople feel in Chapter 21. The townspeople feel fearful that the immigrants will come in and take their jobs. They believe (and rightly so) that the immigrants can offer their bosses something they cannot. This fear causes them to lash out. In this chapter, the narrator takes a look at the fear and anger that comes when a group of migrants threaten their way of life and their jobs.

The Entire West

Chapter 21 of The Grapes of Wrath opens with a reminder of just how different the people who migrated from the Midwest are from the people in the West. The migrants, whose entire existence revolved around their crops and land, now have ''the whole West to rove in.'' They are still very aware and conscious of industrial machines since they are not used to seeing them.

The migration has changed the people who traveled from the Midwest. Being hungry, worrying about being hungry and constantly moving brings the migrants together as a group and helps them bond. Similarly, the people in the towns where the migrants land also feel a bond to one another. They get together and make plans to fight against the migrants.

Fear and Anger

The men who lived in the towns are fearful of the migrants because they have never seen a hungry child. They saw the migrants as invaders, convincing themselves and one another that ''These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They're degenerate, sexual maniacs. Those goddamned Okies are thieves. They'll steal anything. They've got no sense of property rights. ' The narrator points out that since the migrants do not own property, it's true that they do not understand the desire for ownership.

The townspeople are not only afraid of interacting with the migrants, they are also afraid that their jobs will be taken. A shopkeeper thinks about how he gets 15 dollars a week, but if a migrant will do the work for 12, then he will probably lose his job. This fear turns out to be justified because ''When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it-- fought with a low wage. ' Some workers would even offer to work for food instead of money. Eventually the low wages take a toll and the farmers lose their jobs. Just like the ''Okies'' they end up becoming migrants.

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