The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 26 Summary

Instructor: Catherine Smith

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

Chapter 26 of ''The Grapes of Wrath'' has the Joads leaving the government camps to move north, where they hope to find work. But things do not go as planned, and Tom is involved in a serious fight in which Casy dies and Tom murders a man.

Leaving the Government Camp

Although the government camp has been the nicest place they have lived, the Joads decide that it's time to move on. While the government camp has warm water, flushing toilets, and supportive friends, Ma points out that what they really need is food. Rose of Sharon is due to give birth soon, and no one has had enough to eat in a long time. Since there is no work nearby, there is no way to justify continuing to stay at this camp. So the Joads once again get on the road to look for work, this time to the north, where they have at least heard rumors of jobs.

Changing Roles

In the latter half of The Grapes of Wrath, Ma more and more frequently takes on a leadership role in the Joad family, largely because the men have been beaten down by their unsuccessful searches for work. Pa typically responds in anger when she asserts herself in making decisions, but Ma explains to Tom in this chapter that this is a good thing, and in fact why she continues to goad Pa: 'Take a man, he can get worried an' worried, an' it eats out his liver, an' purty soon he'll jus' lay down and die with his heart et out. But if you can take an' make 'im mad, why, he'll be alright.' This tactic of Ma's continues to appear through to the end of the book.

Final Talks in Camp

Before they leave the camp, Tom chats with some of the others that live there, and an important point is made about why the deputies don't hassle workers who live in this type of camp: 'All we got to do is give a yell an' they's two hunderd men out. Fella organizin' for the union was a-talkin' out on the road. He says we could do that any place. Jus' stick together.' This is important foreshadowing for the latter half of Chapter 26.

Finding Work

On the way north, the Joads' car gets a flat tire, and when they pull over to fix it, a smartly dressed man stops to talk to them. He asks if they're looking for work, and gives them directions to where, he guarantees them, there will be plenty of work available. The Joads follow the directions he gives them, and daydream along the way of how nice it will be to find a home, have enough to eat, and finally get settled. Unfortunately, this is not at all how things play out. As soon as they arrive at their destination, they are hurried along into the camp, where they are discouraged from interacting with anyone and from asking questions. It is clear that there is some sort of conflict going on outside the camp, but the Joads are not able to find out what it is about. Still, in spite of the fact that their cabin is small, dirty, and smelly, they at least have found work.

Picking Peaches

The Joads manage to collect enough peaches on the first day to eat a decent meal; still not quite enough food to satisfy everyone, but at least they have some meat. Ma does not appreciate the obnoxious manner of the clerk in the grocery store, but she realizes that he feels ashamed of himself for selling overpriced groceries to others in his social class, and copes with his embarrassment by making jokes. In the end, the clerk lends Ma ten cents of his own money so that she can afford all the groceries she needs. It occurs to Ma that poor people tend to help in times of crisis, while wealthy people do not.

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