The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 28 Summary

Instructor: Catherine Smith

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

Chapter 28 of ''The Grapes of Wrath'' covers the Joads' new home in a boxcar, Ruthie's mistake in telling Tom's secret, and Tom's decision to leave. We also learn that Tom has changed his worldview, and that Al is going to get married.

The Boxcar

At the beginning of Chapter 28 in The Grapes of Wrath, the Joads have moved into half of a boxcar. There are only 12 cars available, with one family per half-car, so they are one of only 24 families who are able to live like this. While the boxcar is not as nice as a proper house, Ma Joad keeps it warm and tidy, and the family agrees that it's the best they've had it since they lived in the government camp. When the family goes grocery shopping, the reader can get a sense of their change of circumstance, since the buy some unnecessary items, such as Cracker Jacks for the kids.

Ruthie's Mistake

The Cracker Jacks, however, cause more trouble than they're worth: Ruthie eats hers slowly and when other children ask her for some, she refuses, causing a fight. In the middle of the fight, Ruthie reveals that her older brother has killed people before, and that he's now in hiding. Winfield tells Ma what Ruthie did, and Ma decides to find Tom to warn him.

Ma's Conversation with Tom

Ma leaves hides food for Tom in the usual place, and when Tom appears to get it, she returns with him to his hiding place, which turns out to be a dark cave. Ma can't see Tom in the cave, but repeatedly asks to touch his face, both to see how he's healing and to commit his features to memory, since they both realize he now needs to run away. In one of the heartbreaking moments between mother and son, she says, 'I wanta touch ya again, Tom. It's like I'm blin', it's so dark. I wanta remember, even if it's on'y my fingers that remember. You got to go away, Tom.'

Tom Reborn

After agreeing that Tom must leave, Tom begins to tell Ma what he's been thinking about, alone in the cave. The lessons that Casy used to teach Tom have taken hold, particularly those about the need for unity; for people to work together. Tom is now persuaded by Casy's claim that all people share one soul, and that everyone is connected in that humanity. When Ma asks him how she'll know whether something happens to him, he reassures her that if all people share one soul, 'it don' matter. Then I'll be all aroun' in the dark. I'll be ever'where -- wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there.' In his speech, we get a sense of a new Tom, one that feels more connected to the rest of humanity and who can understand the value of unity.

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