The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 27 Summary

Instructor: Catherine Smith

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

Chapter 27 of ''The Grapes of Wrath'' describes the experience of migrants who find work picking cotton. Although the work is not highly paid, and the people weighing the cotton are often corrupt, the workers are grateful to have some work as long as it lasts, and find solidarity with one another.

Cotton Pickers Wanted

Chapter 27 of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath opens with a description of advertisements -- placards and handbills -- calling for cotton pickers. This at least signals a bit of hope for the Joads and other migrants. Although it is not easy work, it's available work, and can keep a family fed. Like all other moments of hope, however, the cotton picking comes with its own set of challenges and compromises.

Compromises and Corruption

The Cotton Bag

Immediately upon applying for a job picking cotton, the applicant is asked if he/she has a cotton bag, which of course no one does. Applicants are quickly reassured that they can get the bag on loan, and the cost (one dollar) will be taken out of their wages. They are further reassured that the bag can last a long time -- if one end wears out, they need only switch sides and sew up the opposite end -- and the cloth can ultimately be used for a nightshirt or something similar. In any event, people need to work, so everyone agrees to the initial loan of the cotton bag, even though it means that their wages will be further reduced by this cost.


We soon learn that the men running the cotton fields tend to be corrupt. They weigh the scales in order to pay the cotton pickers even less than their already low wages. The only way for the cotton pickers to deal with this reality is to cheat in return: They often put rocks in the bottom of their bags in an effort to offset the scale's underestimation of the weight of cotton they've picked. This situation is described as follows: 'Argue. Scale man says you got rocks to make weight. How 'bout him? His scales is fixed. Sometimes he's right, you got rocks in the sack. Sometimes you're right, the scales is crooked. Sometimes both...' The reader gets the sense that this is just the way of the job, and the cotton pickers learn to do what they must to have a chance at getting paid for their work.

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